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Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Taras Bulba [22:30]
Concertino for piano, two violins, clarinet, horn and bassoon [16:22]
Sinfonietta [21:52]
Rudolf Firkušný (piano) (Concertino)
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Rafael Kubelik
Rec. May and Oct 1970, München, Residenz, Herkulessaal. ADD

Kubelik’s fabled Bavarian Janáček tapes have been much reissued. They are part of the DG legacy and have still have plenty of vibrant life left in them. Almost forty years old they have clout and a grunting immediacy. No doubt this is the reason why this disc has attracted a Penguin Rosette and why it has turned up in new livery on the DG Rosette Collection series at an attractive price.

Despite triumphantly powerful recording qualities, the Concertino remains obstinately opaque, at least to this listener. It is a pity that Kubelik’s version of the Glagolytic Mass could not have been squeezed on instead. There are no such problems with the other two works. Kubelik has a wonderful and ever-fresh empathy for this music. He plays it for all it is worth whether in the supremely singing melancholy of the Moderato of the Sinfonietta or in the barking bardic trombones at 6:30 in The Death of Andri from Taras Bulba. The Bavarian violins are silvery and steely all at once. The firmament clawing trumpets at 7:01 in the Death of Andri are imposing. Then again, colouristic strokes such as the ice-frosted crystalline screech of the violins at the start of the Death of Ostap add further to the effect. In the Allegretto (tr. 9) of the Sinfonietta the yelping manic hysteria of the horns is remarkable. The classic Decca version of Mackerras and the VPO sounds excellent but is out-pointed by this overwhelming disc. Of the ones I know the only version to come at all close is the Reference Recordings double of the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jose Serebrier (RR-2103). That RR double is well worth getting for it catches Serebrier and his orchestra to perfection in Janáček. The recording is exceptional and the interpretative values are very high. In the meantime if you are in search of a resoundingly great recording from the analogue 1970s then look no further than Kubelik and DG. It may well be all you ever need for these two key works.

Kubelik lays bare the imperiously beating heart of this music and is complemented by DG’s electrifying recording ... rich in amplitude and dynamic life.

Rob Barnett

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