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Pohádka 'A Tale'
1910, revised 1923

'Lieux retrouvés – Music for cello & piano' (CDA67948)
Lieux retrouvés – Music for cello & piano
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Movement 1: Con moto
Movement 2: Con moto
Movement 3: Allegro

Pohádka 'A Tale'
The germination of Janácek’s Pohádka was a long one. First performed in 1910 in a three-movement version, which its composer described as part of a projected longer work, it was revived in 1912, this time with four movements. When it was eventually published in 1923, however, it had again lost its last movement; this final version is the one we play here. The ‘tale’ of the title is based (loosely) on a story by the Russian poet V A Zhukovsky, catchily entitled ‘A Tale about Tsar Berendey, about his son Ivan the Tsarevich, about the Acumen of Immortal Kaschei and about the wise Tsarievna Maria, Kaschei’s Daughter’. In brief, as I understand it, the part of the story represented in Pohádka concerns the handsome Prince Ivan (initially conveyed by the cello in a dotted pizzicato motif—so appropriate that a noble, good-looking hero should be played by the cello), who falls in love with the beautiful Princess Maria. The only slight handicap to this otherwise ideal match is that her father is none other than Kaschei the Undead, King of the Underworld—perhaps not the ideal father-in-law for a young prince of good prospects. Nor does Kaschei consider Ivan the son-in-law of his dreams. In fact, for complicated reasons, he feels that he owns Ivan’s soul—you know how these Undead fathers-in-law are—and strongly objects to the match.

The dreamy opening of the first movement, apparently representing the magical lake at which Ivan and Maria meet, leads to a touching love-duet; but after that the urgency increases, culminating in a passage of violent syncopations as Kaschei chases the young lovers on horseback. The second movement also begins with a strong sense of magic. The young lovers have reached safety at the palace of a neighbouring Tsar; but alas, all is not well, since this Tsar and Tsarina are rather too taken with young Ivan, fancying him as the perfect match for their own daughter and putting a spell on him, causing him to fall in love with said daughter. Maria reacts just as any normal adolescent girl would under these circumstances: she turns into a blue flower. The good news is that this draws from Janácek (near the opening of the movement) some meltingly lyrical music. And then, more good news: someone has the presence of mind to summon a wise magician, who breaks the spell. One can hear Ivan’s recovery in the return of his initial dotted rhythm, now played arco (bowed) rather than pizzicato (plucked). To demonstrate his return to health, he shoots right up to a searing top B flat. Sometimes in performance I’ve wondered whether Ivan, to demonstrate his newly found vigour, climbs to the top of a tree, where he finds a rather desperate cat bawling at the top of its voice; but that probably isn’t the intended effect. In the last movement, Ivan and Maria have reached the sanctuary of Ivan’s parents’ palace, where they tell of their love and their adventures, celebrate, and live happily ever after—well, as happily as one can live in the key of G flat major.

from notes by Steven Isserlis © 2012

Track-specific metadata
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Details for CDA67948 track 6
Recording date
15 December 2011
Recording venue
Concert Hall, Wyastone Estate, Monmouth, United Kingdom
Recording producer
John Fraser
Recording engineer
Ben Connellan
Hyperion usage
  1. Lieux retrouvés – Music for cello & piano (CDA67948)
    Disc 1 Track 6
    Release date: October 2012
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