‘Another pearl in Stott's programme is the knockabout Fantasy on national songs.' Gramophone
‘Stott's approach is more measured, and more poetic. In her hands , the showers of notes garlanding the melody in On the Seashore have irresistible beauty, while the Czech dance entitled ‘Hulan' (‘Lancer') has an extraordinary tenerdness. These pianists have open up a treasure trove...' BBC Music Magazine
‘Stott also overtly emphasises Smetana's debt to Chopin in her playing, which is wonderfully reflective and subtle, above all in Dreams, and in the exquisite On the Sea Shore, written in 1861, shortly after Smetana's return to Prague from Sweden.' The Guardian
Our image of Smetana as a composer is founded largely on his operas and the symphonic poem cycle, Ma Vlast, but he was first and foremost a composer for the piano. Formidably difficult works, reflecting his own ability on the piano, they manifest some influence from Liszt's virtuosic piano tradition and are very much in the Romantic style. Although Smetana is a highly esteemed as a Czech composer, most of his compositions, especially his piano works and operas, are still rarely performed today. Although he usually relied on Czech subjects for his music, he never quoted Czech folk music but unconsciously composed unorthodox Czech music. He created a dramatic atmosphere by means of his masterful orchestration, and trademark prolonged pedal points and strong chromatic Wagnerian bass lines.
The key work on this recording is the cycle of six Dreams. Composed after the on-set of deafness; Smetana had had to stop conducting and turn his attentions back to piano composition. ‘Extinguished Happiness' has something of the Lisztian virtuosity of earlier works, but the brilliance is tinged with reflective melancholy. ‘Consolation' which follows owes little to Liszt, rather its restless central section looks forward to the more agitated last symphonic poem of My Country. ‘In the salon', seems to be looking back to youthful contentment while, ‘Before the Castle' gazes back much further to an image of the nation's heroic past. The concluding ‘Festivity of Czech country folk' encompasses both an affectionate glimpse at rural goings on as well as a certain wry humour. The cycle is an excellent example of the extremes of Smetana's composing style, and an excellent introduction to his piano music. The transcription of Schubert's song ‘Der Neugierige' is a brilliant and heartfelt transformation of Schubert's work. In the same year, and again very much with Liszt's example in mind, Smetana composed the Etude in C Major; a big-boned work; its energy and the extreme demands of its virtuoso writing single it out as one of his most exciting works for piano. Completing the recording are the four Polkas composed in 1877 that comprise Smetana's first set of Czech Dances and bring to a climax his lifelong association with this popular dance.