This interesting CD
sheds light on an aspect of Janáček’s
creative output that may be unfamiliar
to many collectors, as it was to me.
Vocal music was very much in his blood
and, especially in his earlier years,
he conducted a number of amateur and
student choirs, for which much of the
music included here would have
A perfect example is
his reworking of Liszt’s Messe pour
Janáček added vocal texts from
the Ordinary of the Mass to fit Liszt’s
organ music to enable the choir of Brno
Gymnasium, which he conducted at the
time, to sing this as a mass
setting. It seems that he altered virtually
none of Liszt’s original music though
he did have to do some re-working of
the actual text in order to make it
fit. The result is an interesting if
not desperately original mass setting.
At just over 16 minutes duration it
is, effectively, a Missa Brevis and
it would be a useful addition to the
repertoire of church choirs, I would
The recital includes
two pieces for solo organ, reminding
us that Janáček
himself studied the instrument. Both
of these pieces are described in the
notes as “early” works though no composition
dates are given. In both cases I was
struck by the evident influence of Bach.
Clive Driskell-Smith, the Sub-Organist
of Christ Church Cathedral, plays
both very convincingly.
The remainder of the
programme is vocal and ranges from a
very early Exaudi Deus, a conventional
but pleasing miniature for unaccompanied
mixed chorus, to a group of works written
in the first decade of the twentieth
century. The two settings of Ave
Maria are interesting. The 1904
piece sets a Czech translation of the
original Latin prayer. According to
the notes the work was conceived for
soprano solo, violin, organ and choir.
Here, however, the keyboard part is
played on a piano and the vocal solo
is taken by tenor, Andrew Carwood. I
mean no disrespect to Carwood when I
say that I would have preferred a soprano
here for the tenor voice is, almost
by definition, more forceful than that
of a soprano and I think a gentler vocal
style would have suited the music better.
The other Ave Maria is in fact
not the conventional prayer but a setting
of lines from Byron’s Don Juan.
This piece, for male voice choir, is
an eloquent little piece and is well
Tracks 7 and 8 are
two brief settings of texts from Catholic
liturgy. Constitues is the Offertory
prayer from the Mass of the feast of
Saints Peter and Paul. It is written
for men’s voices and organ. Its counterpart,
Veni Sancte Spiritus, is an antiphon
to the Holy Spirit for male voices a
cappella, which features some intriguing
harmonies. Here I must part company
with the notes by the composer and expert
on eastern European music, Ivan Moody
who describes Veni Sancte Spiritus
as "more bombastically march-like
in character than Constitues."
I just don’t hear this at all. Veni
Sancte Spiritus is set here as a
rather subdued invocation. Since Moody
is usually so authoritative in such
matters I wonder if this is down to
an editing lapse? These two short works
include some challenging writing for
the singers, especially the tenors,
but the choir copes admirably.
The CD contains two
especially interesting pieces. The Elegie
was written as a direct response
to the death from typhoid of Janáček’s
own daughter. Unsurprisingly, the piece,
which is scored for solo tenor, chorus
and piano, is deeply felt and poignant.
Ivan Moody describes it as “haunting”
and this is an apt choice of words.
In this piece I felt that the tessitura
of the solo line
lay more kindly for Andrew Carwood than
in the other pieces to which he contributes.
Janáček’s solo vocal lines were
ever demanding and this trait is evident
even in the small, early pieces recorded
on this disc. Elsewhere in the programme
Carwood sounds strained at times
but in this Elegie he is shown
to best advantage. The piano accompaniment
to this piece is sensitively played
by Clive Driskell-Smith.
For me the most inventive
work in the recital is Otcenáš.
This is an extended setting of the Lord’s
Prayer in six short sections. One of
its most striking features is the accompaniment
for organ and harp. This scoring is
surprisingly atmospheric and the instruments
complement each other beautifully. Much
of the setting is fairly reflective
in tone but the fourth section features
some energetic writing for the choir
and the final section opens with a strong
organ passage after which the choral
part builds to a vigorous Amen. This
is a most interesting work, to which
I shall probably return more often than
anything else in the programme.
The performances are
of a very high standard (all those involved
have some past or present connection
to Christ Church.) The sound is very
good and the notes, though succinct
are generally very informative and interesting.
Texts and translations are provided.
This is an enterprising release, which
expertly illuminates a less prominent
but worthwhile area of Janáček’s