Album detail
Catalogue number: SU 4252-2

His Mozart debut recording, made with the Czech Philharmonic and the conductor Jiří Bělohlávek (Supraphon 2017), caught the attention of the specialist international press. Jan Bartoš’s pheno­menal, and highly critically acclaimed, ability to blend sophisticated architecture and profound emotionality has to an even greater degree manifested itself in his conception of Beethoven‘s music. As performed by him, Beethoven softly speaks, sings and roars alike. Bartoš has discovered a universe abounding in emotion and contrast, an image whose colours astonish and burn into your memory. We talked to Jan Bartoš on the occasion of the release of Supraphon’s new, double album of Ludwig van Beethoven’s piano sonatas.

What was the main impulse for you to make a recording of Ludwig van Beethoven’s works?
The answer is simple. In my opinion, Beethoven is the greatest composer of all time. That which prompted me to make the album was my lifelong interest in his music and personality. The idea of recording his works has been on my mind for a very long time indeed.

What do you think of Beethoven’s per­sonality?
I myself am fascinated by the range of his personality, virtually encompassing everything, which duly reflected in his music. When it comes to the pieces on my album, they render a variety of features – masculine energy and elegance, in Opus 2, nobleness and earnestness, in Opus 14, passion and extreme drama, in Appassionata. The final Sonata and Bagatelles teem with compassion and love, while harbouring mystic visions … I deem Beethoven to be the greatest revolutionary in the history of music. His highly personal approach changed everything. Without him, Romanticism and the further evolution of music are simply unimaginable – he was linked up to by Schumann, Brahms, Wagner, Bruckner, Mahler, Strauss, Schoenberg, Shostakovich, and dozens of other major composers. Beethoven essentially transformed many genres, and his final pieces showed the path to the distant future.

How did you select the new album‘s reper­toire?
I wanted to put next to each other different types of works, so as to highlight the sheer diversity of Beethoven’s music. Such an approach conforms with me more than consistent chronology or thematic cohesion. The pieces featured on the album are among those I love the most. And I had the opportunity to explore them with my dearest mentors, including Ivan Moravec and Alfred Brendel.

What are the greatest pitfalls of Beethoven’s piano works?
His compositions are perfectly built, everything is logical, everything fits together like a puzzle. Consequently, now and then his music may come across as predictable, or overly rational. Yet I have identified the same problem with Johann Sebastian Bach. Owing to the absence of instructions and notes, Bach affords the performers great freedom of interpretation – what some may perceive as slow and almost sacred, others may feel as being fast and dance-like. In my opinion, this type of freedom is out of the question in Beethoven’s case, as his precise notation provides a relatively clear notion of this or that piece’s character. Yet it is necessary, and indeed imperative, to “psychologise” the rigorous structure of his works – the interpreter should brace up to the variability of emotions and nuance everything to a greater extent. This, however, is my opinion, and I am sure that some colleagues of mine would disagree with me.

How often have you performed Ludwig van Beethoven’s music at your concerts?
Beethoven’s music has been included in almost all my solo concerts. Last year, l combined his works with short pieces by John Cage, this year with Franz Schubert’s com­positions.

How big is the difference between live performances and the recording process in the studio?
My first two albums feature live recordings of concerts; hence, I could say there is no difference. Why did I agree to make a studio recording? For several reasons. When I play Beethoven’s music at concerts, I get easily enraptured by it, and thus I occasionally overdo the tempo or dynamics. But, as far as I know, it happens to virtually all pianists. Whereas it may work well, and may even be exciting, at live concerts, it does not agree with Beethoven on recordings. To give a specific example – I wanted to record the third movement from Appassionata more slowly than is usual, so as to comply with the tempo marking Allegro ma non troppo. Precious few succeed in doing so at concerts.

What major concerts have you planned for the next season?
This autumn, I will not solely focus on the music featured on my new album. Besides Beethoven, I will also pay great attention to Leoš Janáček, whose works I will present at concerts in Spain and Italy. At the end of October, I will perform his complete piano oeuvre at two recitals within the Leoš Janáček International Festival in Ostrava, as well as at other concerts. In the next season, I will perform Beethoven’s Piano Concerto in E flat major and Choral Fantasy for piano, mixed choir and orchestra with the Janáček Philharmonic. In 2019, I am scheduled to give large recitals, including one on 26 January at the Rudolfinum, within the Prague Symphony Orchestra’s cycle Global Piano Music. I feel greatly honoured, since among those who will appear within the cycle are such renowned artists as Vladimir Ashkenazy, Piotr Anderszewski, Angela Hewitt and Nikolai Demidenko.

Have you decided on the next recording project?
The next project will be a Janáček album. Subsequently, Jakub Hrůša, the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra and I will embark upon recording piano concertos by Johannes Brahms and Vítězslav Novák.