Movement 1: Con moto
Movement 2: Con moto
Movement 3: Allegro
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