CD review: Janacek’s Moravian Folk Songs

First published in the Guardian on 17 December, 2015

Leos Janacek wrote down thousands of rural Czech songs during his lifetime; he loved the twisting modal tunes, the jagged lyrics. The title of his most important published collection — Moravian Folk Poetry In Song — hints at how much attention he paid to the rogue rhythm of the words as well as the melodies. His settings never over-prettify the music, keeping vocal lines direct and a strong flavour of cimbalom, organ, fiddle and stomping feet in the piano accompaniments. Mostly he believed these songs should feel like real life: “the dance song should choke in sweat, in people’s vapour and steam, while the melancholy weeping of the bride should be reflected in wedding songs.” Some operatic voices overstate or over-gloss the raw spirit, but soprano Martina Jankova and baritone Tomas Kral get it just right with light, clear, candid voices and a striking sense of space from pianist Ivo Kahanek.