It is a tribute to Janácek's
genius that we always think of him as a 20th century composer. In fact
he was aged 46 when the new century began, but of course he continued
to develop and the majority of his compositions of lasting value
were written in the final phase of his life.
The Indian Summer that
is Janácek's final decade contains his greatest music, indeed some
of the finest operas and instrumental works ever written, This is not
to deny, however, that prior to that period a few of his compositions,
including the orchestral rhapsody Taras Bulba and the opera Jenufa,
attain the same high standards.
Composed in 1926, the Sinfonietta uses a large
orchestra, the outer movements requiring a complement of extra brass,
including fourteen trumpets. Tilson Thomas conducts a performance which
enjoys very high standards of playing, as well as a clear and well focused
recording. If the results are not quite in the front rank of recorded
performances, that is because the rhythmic attack lacks the cutting
edge which this music seems to gain in the hands of native Czech performers.
(Rafael Kubelik (Deutsche Grammophon) is particularly effective.) But
Tilson Thomas does offer compensations, since the more lyrical moments
of the work have a poetic beauty which seems hard to match. Any doubts
about the more dramatic agenda do not present major problems, though
for sheer drama other performances can add an extra dimension.
Performance standards are high also in the Glagolitic
Mass, with marvellous playing from the LSO, while the LSO Chorus
matches their standard. Make no mistake, this music is fearsome in its
technical demands and these things should not be taken for granted,
even if the fact of recorded performances can encourage us to expect
excellence at the push of a button.
As in the Sinfonietta, the quieter, more reflective
aspects of the Mass are beautifully done, and beautifully captured by
the recording, too. There is careful attention to dynamic shadings and
In this remastered issue the sound is probably better
than ever, and there is no lack of impact in the more powerful sections
of the score, of which there are many. For example, John Scott's big
organ solo expands magnificently, and will be heard to best advantage
by those who dwell in detached properties.
The soloists make an effective team, and it is interesting
to hear Felicity Palmer take the mezzo soprano part, where previously
she was the soprano soloist on Sir Simon Rattle's performance on EMI.
Gary Lakes, that fine Wagnerian tenor, is caught in good voice, though
he does struggle occasionally with his Czech diction.
Tilson Thomas conducts with a sense of real dedication
and commitment, and the dramatic aspects of the work come across with
biting clarity and directness. For this is a splendid performance of
a choral work which gets becomes more powerful and compelling with each
performance one hears.