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.