> JACEK Danube 8555245 [RDB]: Classical Reviews- April2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Leoš JANÁCEK (1854-1928)
Symphonic Poem Danube
Incidental music Schluck und Jau
Moravian Dances; Suite, Op. 3
Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra/Libor Pešek; Jana Valašková (soprano); Zdenek Husek (viola)
Recorded 1985 at the Concert Hall of the Slovak Philharmonic Orchesra
First released in 1986 on Marco Polo 8.220162.
NAXOS 8.555245 [47.99]


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Maybe Janácek was looking over his shoulder to Vltava from Smetana’s cycle of symphonic poems Ma Vlast (my country) when he chose the Danube for his essay in the same genre (he certainly regarded the Danube as a Slav river, passing, as it then did, through four Slavic states); on the other hand maybe not! Janácek’s river is less picturesque than Smetana’s and rises from more obscure sources. According to his pupil, Osvald Chlubna, Janácek portrays the Danube symbolically as a woman, and the four movements are loosely based on two poems Lola by Alexander Insarov, which tells of the doomed life of a prostitute who (a touch added by the composer) eventually drowns in a river, and a narrative poem The Drowned Girl by Pavla Kríková. Fortunately the score’s strength and character speaks for itself, and we may dispense with such literary pretensions and respond instinctively to its powerful musical qualities.

Chlubna arranged the composer’s sketches for a four movement work discovered after the composer’s death, but this recording returns to a slightly edited transcription of the composer’s original orchestral sketch transcribed by Leos Faltus, Milan Stedron and Otakar Trhlik. The work falls into four sections, two fairly slow and two faster, which fluid, impressionistic ideas that follow one another with few obviously programmatic references except, perhaps, the fragmentary echoes of folk music distantly heard from the river banks. The work is a kaleidoscope of shifting colours, and the orchestration as voluptuous as it always is in this composer’s instrumental works. In the third section Janácek introduces a solo soprano voice singing an undulating, wordless melody, rather in the manner of Rachmaninov’s Vocalise. Danube is a strongly evocative work, and receives all the subtlety and expressiveness it demands from the Slovak Philharmonic.

Schluck und Jau, is a play by Gerhardt Hauptmann based on the Introduction to Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. The two extracts from Janácek’s incidental music on this record can easily be enjoyed without reference to the fantastic plot in the same sense as Danube can do without the poems. Hauptmann’s comedy concerns the adventures of Christopher Sly, a drunken tinker, deceived into believing himself a lord. Shakespeare’s brief prologue is expanded into six scenes, with plenty of dressing up and knockabout comedy. Though these two extracts last less than ten minutes, they earn their place on this disc by their comedic deftness.

Janácek’s reputation now resides mainly in his operas and a few substantial orchestral works, but his dedication to the national music of his native Moravia (now part of Czechoslovakia) shows a more relaxed side of his musical nature. Unlike the Slavonic and Hungarian dances Dvorak and Brahms, the Moravian dances are taken out of the concert hall into the countryside, thus retaining their essential freshness and simplicity. The five authentic dances on this disc are neither overdressed nor overstressed, and treated with affectionate respect for their rhythmic and melodic subtleties. All are delightful.

The orchestral Suite was not performed until after the composer’s death. Its four movements contain thematic material from an opera, The Beginning of a Romance, on which the composer was working in 1891, partly destroyed by Janácek after its first performance in 1894. Again ethnic influences are prominent, with an engaging simplicity comparable to the Moravian Dances.

I rate this disc highly not only for excellent performances, but also for its inspired rediscovery of three rarities from a Czech composer who, in the twentieth century, can be ranked with Dvorak and Smetana. Highly recommended.
Roy D.Brewer


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