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JAN GOTTLIEB JIRACEK (article first published : 2002-10-18)

As his name suggests, 27-year-old Jan Gottlieb Jiracek has a German-Czech background. This tall, blonde young man has built up an imposing reputation in Europe and America, and at his Durban recital the first notes of Beethoven's Op 22 Sonata confirmed his virtuoso quality. This is one of the master's lesser known sonatas, though Beethoven himself was very proud of it; "It washes itself", he declared, using a German idiom which in modern parlance means it's got what it takes. It is a fine work and it was given a brilliant performance by the visiting pianist, almost too brilliant at times, one felt.

The minuet of the sonata is a graceful, almost ingenuous little piece, but Jiracek played it as if he were delivering an etude by Chopin or Liszt. But his performance as a whole generated much enthusiasm from the audience.

The pianist seemed more at home in Schumann's exuberant Etudes Symphoniques, making light of the formidable technical difficulties of the music. For me, however, the finest playing of the evening came in Ravel's Valses nobles et sentimentales, a work that still seems quite startlingly modern even though it was written nearly a hundred years ago. The eight waltzes are harsh, tender, calm, excited, romantic, cool, and Jiracek gave a beautifully poetic interpretation, especially in the quiet and impressionistic final item.

Schubert's big Wanderer Fantasy is a difficult piece to bring off. I find it a somewhat unsympathetic work, in spite of its many beautiful moments, notably the quotations from Schubert's song The Wanderer. But Jiracek gave a performance so compelling and forceful that the most critical ears must surely have been beguiled and persuaded.

For an encore he played Liszt's third Liebestraume. It is a piece so well known that it is often described as hackneyed, yet it is very seldom played on a serious concert platform, and I enjoyed hearing it. Michael Green




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