- Slovak Suite, for piano, Op. 32
- Valachian Dance, for piano, Op. 34/2
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As more and more Eastern European compositions of the first half of the 20th century have surfaced in the West, they only sound better and better. These works by Vitezslav Novák, all written between 1900 and 1904, are real finds, reflective of the major musical ideas of the time, but derivative of none. The "Sonata eroica for piano, Op. 24," from the year 1900, is a massively difficult work that meets its match in veteran Czech pianist Radoslav Kvapil, renowned in his homeland but not so much known in the West. It suggests Rachmaninov, but it also shows an influence of Slovak folk music that gives an absolutely distinctive rhythmic edge to Novák's music and makes it sound almost Bartókian at times, even though Novák never deserted his basic late Romanticism. National elements come to the fore in the unclassifiable "Slovak Suite, Op. 32," which brings together folk rhythms, full-blooded Romantic pianism, and a characteristic layered treatment of texture (perhaps inspired by Debussy) into a sort of fantastic reflection on Slovak scenes. The "Songs of Winter Nights, Op. 30," take Romantic program music as a point of departure, and the excerpt from the "Valachian Dances, Op. 34," that closes the album is more programmatic than the name might suggest as it is a dance scene, rather than a dance. There isn't an unimaginative piece in the bunch. The sound, apparently recorded at a Welsh farmhouse, is quite distinctive and fits the fantastic atmosphere beautifully. Another small triumph for the American label Alto, which has specialized in neglected artists and repertoires.