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Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Taras Bulba (1915/1918) [22:30]
Concertino for piano and chamber ensemble (1925) [16:27]
Sinfonietta (1926) [21:51]
Rudolf Firkušný (piano)
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Rafael Kubelik
rec. Residenz, Herkulessaal, Munich, May 1970 (Taras Bulba; Sinfonietta); October 1971 (Concertino).
Experience Classicsonline

When the LP of the two orchestral works recorded here was released I’d already been hooked on them by the superb performances of the works by the Czech Philharmonic under the great Karel Ančerl on a Supraphon issue. The Sinfonietta (recorded in 1961) is currently available on Supraphon SU 3684-2 011, coupled with Martinu’s Les Fresques de Piero della Francesca and the Parables. Ančerl’s Taras Bulba (recorded in 1963) is on SU 3667-2 coupled with a truly earth-shattering performance of the Glagolitic Mass. These performances are of such blistering, white hot, intensity that they will never be superceded. This is no mere puff from me: this music-making doesn’t need it, for these performances are towering achievements. Thus, when I first heard these Kubelik performances I was somewhat under-awed. Where was the urgency? The thrusting magnificence of the music? Kubelik seemed to be far too gentlemanly in his approach.

All I can say is that I was younger then, and had much less idea concerning these matters of interpretation. Listening again to Kubelik’s interpretations I realise, now, just how fine they are. The LP (Deutsche Grammophon 2530 075) was cut at a low level - obviously in order to be able to capture the very full orchestration and thus it didn’t have the immediacy of the electrifying Czech disc. But now, with superbly cleaned up sound, and with a good volume boost, here are performances of the very highest order.

The subject matter of Taras Bulba may seem unsuitable for musical setting - the three movements have the titles The Death of Andri, The Death of Ostap and The Prophecy and Death of Taras Bulba. This isn’t music of defeat - it’s music of triumph grasped from the very jaws of defeat. It is an uplifting experience and contains some of Janáček’s most personal music, passionate and searching in its intensity. It’s no mean achievement for a 60 year old!

The Sinfonietta is a much easier work, purely festive, brilliantly orchestrated, and including parts for thirteen extra brass players. The music proceeds irrespective of any musical logic you are used to. It’s phantasmagorical, kaleidoscopic, magnificent, the five movements exuding joy and good feelings - even in the slow movement, although, to be fair, the tempo changes so often that there is no real slow movement.

The Concertino for piano and ensemble was written immediately before the Sinfonietta and whilst its scoring for E flat clarinet, bassoon, horn, two violins and viola may seem bizarre, such was Janáček’s ear for sonority that it works exceptionally well. Firkušný studied with the composer and we can assume that this performance has the imprimatur of authenticity about it.

Put simply, you cannot afford to be without this disk for it contains great music in great performances. Place it on the shelf and let it take its rightful place beside the Ančerl recordings.

Bob Briggs  


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