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Leos JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Nine Male Choruses

Ach vojna, vojna
Coz ta nase briza
Ceska legie
Potulny silence
Kantor Halfar
Marycka Magdonova
Sedmdesat tisic
Rikadla (Nursery Rhymes)
Moravian Teachers’ Choir/Antonin Tucapsky (May 1969) - Male Choruses
Alfred Holecek, piano, Czech Philharmonic Chorus and Orchestra/Jan Kuhn (January and February 1957) – Rikadla
SOMM CD 201 [60’02]


Somm has dug into the archives to return to the catalogue a pretty much self-recommending disc, the bulk of which is sung by the Moravian Teachers’ Choir in a 1969 traversal of some of Janáček’s greatest male choruses. The Moravian Teachers’ Choir, the international name for the Choir of the Association of Moravian Teachers, was founded in 1903 by Ferdinand Vlach and was well known to Janáček. Tucapsky, known better now perhaps as a composer of distinction and a British resident, conducted them from 1959-69 and this may well have been his final recording with the choir he’d conducted for a decade.

Of the choruses set some are on folk texts or more purely romantic ones. The second here, Coz ta nase briza (Our Birch tree) was written by the Czech writer and Smetana’s librettist Eliska Krasnohorska whilst Klekanica is on a dialect text – and dedicated to this choir, by the way. Ceska legie (The Czech Legion) is a nationalist epic celebrating the establishment of Czechoslovakia in 1918. Maybe surprisingly the text of Potulny silence (The Wandering Madman) is derived from Tagore, whom Graham Melville-Mason’s elucidatory notes remind us, Janáček had heard in Prague in 1921. Kantor Halfar is a not so coded political protest against German authoritarianism, oppression and the suppression of the Czech language – and Sedmdesat tisic still more of a political statement. Whether epic, romantic, theatrico-dramatic, dialect or philosophical these settings make particular and significant demands on a choir. The demands of characterisation co-exist with those of technique and expression. The Choir’s capacities in these respects are truly remarkable. The B Flats in the second of the choruses are perfectly even and sustained and they negotiate the, at first, simple but increasingly complex freedoms and "speech song" setting of Rozlouceni with staggering finesse and technical address. The declamatory complexity and metrical complications of Ceska legie with its varieties of mood, tempo and sonority are conveyed with the highest possible skill. The compass of the choir is even across the range, from head voice to the vertiginous Slavic basses; single voices emerge from the mass with fervent musicality and there is a real sense of theatrical, sometimes almost operatic, engagement with the source material. Tucapsky encourages dynamism and lyricism to flourish; his guidance of the many varied complex rhythmic effects is a testament both to his skill and the sophistication and understanding of the Moravian Teachers’ Choir.

Rikadla, the nursery rhymes, come from the final years of Janáček’s life and were inspired by cartoons in one of the composer’s favourite newspapers and one to which he had contributed his fare share of journalism over the years. The work thus dates from around the time of the composition of Mladi and was originally written for smaller forces, with Janáček enlarging the piece later in 1925, after it was first performed, for Chamber Choir and ten instruments. These are deft and amusing little sketches with characterful contributions from a contingent of the Czech Philharmonic. The recording still sounds splendid and there’s only one cause for complaint; texts of four of the male choruses have been omitted to save space. Not a good idea. Otherwise an unalloyed pleasure.

Jonathan Woolf



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