Jan Smaczny
BBC Music Magazine
May 2016

If Smetana had not turned to opera in the 1860s, we would certainly know him for his piano music. From his early teens, he produced a steady stream of piano works ranging from variations and fantasias to dances and some astonishingly imaginative programmatic pieces. He also had a strong profile as a performer in Prague. Something of the nature of Smetana's playing is evident in On the seashore a reminiscence of Liszt-like brilliance of the lapping of waves on the Swedish coast, which Garrick Ohlsson delivers with seemingly effortlessness virtuosity.

Book 1 of Czech Dances from 1879, consists of four polkas, Smetana's favourite dance. Notwithstanding the essential simplicity of their form, Smetana imbues them with considerable sophistication. The first has a musing, reflective quality captured beautifully by Ohlsson, and the joyous effervescence of the right hand figuration in the second is suitably dazzling. The dances in Book 2 are more wide ranging in their exploration of national dance types and are unfailingly charming, but they also have much subtlety. Ohlsson's performances are consistently attractive; just occasionally, for instance in the 'Furiant' of the second set, there might be greater rhythmic nuance, but this beautifully recorded issue will certainly not disappoint.