How admirable that Reference Recordings (a firm associated
with high-end sound quality) have embraced the less obvious repertoire.
While Janáček is hardly obscure he
remains outside the mainstream of concert seasons. It is notable that
RR and Serebrier have recorded two volumes of orchestral Janáček
and two volumes of orchestral Chadwick (the latter also recently repackaged
as a two for the price of one item). May they continue their
pursuit of the highest standards of hi-fi using the best of neglected
music. I rather hope that they look at some of the orchestral works
of Bax. A disc coupling Bax's Sixth Symphony and Winter Legends for
piano and orchestra could be an absolute knockout both as an audio exhibition
and as an complete artistic experience.
Taras and Sinfonietta have become a standard
coupling ever since the LP days of Supraphon and Ančerl.
So it has continued into the CD era, now approaching twenty years of
The competition in this
sphere is hot. For those wishing to relive analogue splendours, Supraphon
will soon have the original Ančerl coupling available in their
Ančerl Golden Series and I am hoping to review that at some
stage. In addition there are creditable recordings from Naxos, Chandos
(Bĕlohlávek on CHAN 241-7), EMI Classics, DG, Decca (VPO/Mackerras)
and a small host of alternatives from Supraphon including a historic
coupling from Bakala and Jilek.
From the momentous rolling fanfares of Sinfonietta
the sonorous trumpet choir are sharply placed on high in the aural
landscape. The rest of the fruitily burred brass and the tetchily impatient
woodwind also convey the impression of being recorded in a big space.
The Sinfonietta is
one of those works that is a core 'must have' for any general classical
collection. Slav without being Russian, exotic without being repugnant,
optimistic without being puerile. Janáček's fanfares lodge firmly
in the memory and are rivalled in his output only by those in
the Glagolitic Mass. This recording, in particular, made me wonder
whether Copland heard this work before writing Fanfare for the Common
Man. The bass presence is remarkable but once again the great depth
of the soundstage contributes to the poetics
(track 3). This depth consolidates the sense of Martinů-like plangency.
The brass are in resplendent form and their manic death-hunt whooping
and barking at 3.51 (track 3) is an audio and musical highlight. This
is amongst the finest of modern recordings and interpretations.
The Lachian Dances are, as a work, a disappointment
by contrast. My first impressions of this work, formed by hearing an
LP (Decca, 1971) recording conducted by François Huybrechts (whatever
happened to him? Didn't he record Nielsen’s Espansiva as well?)
are confirmed by the present disc. Low voltage stuff. The sound picture
is just as impressive as for Sinfonietta but the music is so
relaxed as to seem casual - almost ordinary. The
dances are an addition to the Dvořák Slavonic Dances
and Rhapsodies but truth to tell nowhere near as inspired.
Highlights include a generous airborne horn section in the second dance
and a sprinkling of rustic charm and jollity.
Taras is interesting as a piece and is well
advocated by the artists. I was struck for the first time by the presence
of the harmonium and also by the debt Copland seems again to have owed
to Taras. The diffuse self-questioning of the first movement
is followed by greater concentration in the second movement. Stabbing,
angular, thrusting figures launch heroic contributions from the brass
(notably trombones) in steady, deliberate, poised and pulsed heroism.
The finale is resonates with the pealing of bells.
In Sinfonietta and Taras Reference have
two works (especially the former) that are natural 'spectaculars'. You
will go a long way to find a better recorded or interpreted big-sound
version of these pieces. Sinfonietta bids fair to be the best
available version. Taras is impressive but as a piece lacks the
compelling invention of the Sinfonietta. As for the Dances
they remain a chummy and relaxed make-weight: nice to have but not in
themselves the stuff of compulsive acquisition.
For the second disc we get some 'pure' Janáček
but the two big items are confections assembled by other hands: Talich/Smetaček
and Serebrier. The Cunning Little Vixen opera is the most
immediately beautiful of his works. The suite begins heavily with chattering
and stabbing figures from the orchestra. This is much more successful
than Taras Bulba for example. At 4.10 a superb violin dance played
with a cogently watery tone by the concertmaster of the Czech State
PO. The atmosphere speaks of magic and woodland pools before the first
section ends in crashing tragedy. The second and final part leaves the
Lachian Dances way behind with all their inconsequential innocence.
There is a projection of great emotive power here familiar perhaps from
Rimsky's Antar but with much more steel. This is a work of high
and refined romance.
The two operatic suites sandwich two preludes however
everything here derives from the operas. The atmosphere of the Jealousy
prelude is of baying unrest as you might expect from the title. There
are yelping horns (echoing Sinfonietta), a petulantly swirling
violin solo, a trumpet section that is not just stratospheric but ionospheric,
playfully complex eddies of romance and great clashing isobars of music.
Do get to hear this music. The Prelude to In the House of the Dead
is claustrophobically similar to Jealousy with the repeat
fanfare at the end rumbling and tumbling in Straussian hysterics. It
ends with a reminiscence of Sinfonietta.
Serebrier's ‘synthesis’ (a typical project for a Stokowski
pupil) includes a dance of the grotesques and positively seethes with
aural interest. The squealing violins toss and turn like oiled quicksilver.
Barking horns bring the work to a reeling and clawing climactic closure.
Reference Recordings have a deserved reputation for
big sound which conveys the poetry and subtlety of the quieter passages.
That reputation is maintained and by this set. The selection of repertoire
is slightly 'off-centre' … and very welcome too.
Eight pages of helpful booklet notes by Richard Freed
in English only.
The only competition I am aware of is the Chandos twofer.
This is very good but I prefer the Serebrier Sinfonietta which
for me remain a top recommendation. Repertoire across the two sets is
If you missed the separate discs first time around
then you have little excuse now when you can get both discs in a single
width case for the price of one.