Often regarded as being the pinnacle of Janáček’s song output, The Diary of One Who Disappeared was the first result of the first meeting between the ageing composer and his new young muse Kamila Stösslová. He first met her in the spa town of Luhačovice in 1917. This remarkable work is scored for the unusual forces of tenor, contralto, female voices and piano, with the texts based upon anonymous poems about a gipsy girl, although it is now accepted that they were written by Ozef Kalda. Janáček had cut out the poems from a newspaper. A deeply emotional work, he wrote to Kamila saying that ‘the black gipsy girl in my Diary of One Who Disappeared—that was you.’ I was introduced to the work through an LP of Nicolai Gedda’s, now a classic account, especially since it is paired with the wonderful account by Beno Blachut. This sadly now shows its age. There is also a CD of Ian Bostridge on EMI, which soon became a favourite recording of mine.
In The Diary of One Who Disappeared, I feel that Nicky Spence, with his slightly deeper and richer voice, gives a more nuanced account than Bostridge, with his being a more characterful and almost personal performance, as he effortlessly runs through all the emotions contained within the work. Spence is helped by Václava Housková, who although a mezzo-soprano, gives a stronger performance than Ruby Philogene on the Bostridge disc. In fact I find the singing throughout this rendition superior to any of the other versions I have. This is, when it comes to the Supraphon disc, mainly down to the sound quality.
I must admit the latest work featured on this disc, Nursery Rhymes, is new to me in its original performing version. Here the three singers of VOICE shine (Victoria Couper, Clemmie Franks, Emily Burns), although on occasion they can be a little too sugary sweet. However this sweetness is tempered by the brilliant clarinet performance of Victoria Samek, her acerbic playing taking the edge off the sweetness wonderfully well.
The final work on this, Moravian Folk Poetry In Songs, is also the earliest. In this work Nicky Spence and Václava Housková are reunited as they effortlessly guide us through these characterful little folk melodies. Janáček takes these sometimes humorous texts and weaves his magic. The result being a charming set of well observed songs in which the sensibility of the text is to the fore. Again, both Spence and Housková offer a nuanced performance of this wonderful work, one which brings this superb disc to a fitting conclusion.
As I have already stated throughout this review, the singing across this disc is excellent, with the performance of The Diary of One Who Disappeared already becoming my first choice. However, the performance of Julius Drake, which links the pieces in this disc, is one of pure beauty, as he effortlessly moves between the differing stylistic challenges posed by the composer. Here is a performance which shows that he is not just a pianist but a consummate accompanist—a true partner for all the vocalists and clarinettist—a performance that is the equal of all on this disc.
The production values are excellent throughout, with the engineers generating an admirable sound quality whilst Nigel Simeone’s wonderfully insightful booklet notes in English, French and German, are a real boon to this recording, as are the full texts in Czech with an English translation. This is a wonderful performance of all three works, one which is blessed with equally fine production values. Highly recommended.