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be superceded.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
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
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.