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‘Aged four: Lada is seen kicking a girl behind her at the barre in ballet class. Reason: too busy watching the pianist accompanying the class. Aged six: first piano is bought. Lada and piano become friends for life.” That’s just a snippet from the delightfully idiosyncratic programme biography supplied by Czech pianist Lada Valesová, who appeared at this year’s Iffley Music Festival. Playing at times forcefully, at times lyrically, melody seemed to positively bubble out of her as she made her way through a recital devoted to Czech music. As composer followed composer, you could not but marvel at the amount of creative talent produced by this small country.

You may know Dvorák’s Slavonic Dances backwards, but how about his Dumka and Furiant, op 12? The elegiac sections of the Dumka produced the evening’s first examples of that wistful, melancholic mood which infuses much Czech music, while you certainly wouldn’t have wanted to try dancing the Furiant after drinking too much Czech beer. More dance music followed, in Smetana’s Scherzo-Polka, op 5, and then the angry waves in his On the Sea Shore, positively shook the rafters of Iffley Church Hall. Dvorák’s pupil Josef Suk wound up the first half, with his suite Spring bringing the sound of appropriately riffling leaves in The Breeze, and premonitions of a darker future in the final movement, Longing.

After the interval, Valesová produced some memorable surprises. Janácek’s In the Mists was followed by a newly discovered Martinu miniature: his take on Spring, full of fresh air and skipping lambs. Finally, a real rarity: a descriptive suite by Pavel Haas, composed in 1935. Beginning with a Preludium (“Bach gone mad,” suggested Valesová, in one of her many humorous and informative introductions), and ending with a Postludium (“New York in the rush hour”), it was fascinating to hear how Haas took the Czech idiom forward from his tutor, Janácek, in music that particularly suited Valesová’s bright tone.

The Oxford Times