As anyone who has seen her play will testify, Yvonne Smeulers is a born performer who immerses herself fully in whatever she is doing. She possesses a relatively small-scale, jewelled sound and plays with beguiling phrasal suppleness and subtlety, particularly around the lower end of the dynamic spectrum. Her reflective intimacy works especially well in these chamber-scale pieces, and the recording captures her velvety sound perfectly, although the piano is recessed to the point that it sounds as if her fine accompanist Sander Sittig is sitting some distance away.
The poetic introspection of Dvořák’s Four Romantic Pieces finds a near-ideal interpreter in Smeulers. The lyrical cantabile of the opening movement soars gently, as though on warm currents of air, while the more dramatic moments avoid any hint of concert-hall projection. The palpable sense of Smeulers playing to us in our own living room is enhanced by exquisitely gentle accounts of Dvořák’s evergreen Sonatina, Smetana’s two-movement From My Homeland and Fibich’s heartwarming Poem. That said, some may find Smeulers’s relatively calm and unruffled approach to Nováček’s Perpetuum mobile a shade underpowered in comparison with, say, Itzhak Perlman or Henryk Szeryng.
Smeulers really comes into her own in Janáček’s Sonata, whose neurotic changeability and elusive gesturing she embraces with alacrity. So too Erwin Schulhoff’s solo Sonata, whose often delicate tracery she inflects with playful grace and charm. Martinů’s Five Madrigal Stanzas and Suk’s Four Pieces, particularly the latter’s Burleska finale, refreshingly exchange rhetorical bluster for gentle musing.
From the June 2012 issue. Subscribe to The Strad or download our digital edition as part of a 30-day free trial.