> Janacek Sarka [RM]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Leos JANÁCEK (1854-1928)
Eva Urbanová (soprano) Sárka
Peter Straka (tenor) Ctirad
Ivan Kusnjer (baritone) Premysl
Jaroslav Brezina (tenor) Lumír
Prague Philharmonic Choir; Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Charles Mackerras
Rec 16-20 August 2000, Rudolfinum Studio, Prague
SUPRAPHON SU 3485-2 [64.04 minutes]


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Šárka is the Amazonian Czech endowed with guile and cunning who succumbs to simple emotion. Few operas can have the libretto summarised so succinctly. This was Janáček’s first, started in 1887, revised the following year, then put away and forgotten for some 30 years. It was finally produced in 1925. The gestation detail is related thoroughly and carefully in the booklet accompanying the CD. It also contains the full libretto with translation.

The simple story is founded on Czech mythology. Šárka, had herself tied to a tree. Discovering her thus and instantly falling in love with her Ctirad foolishly released her. Whereupon she disarmed him and had her troops kill him. By this stage she had now fallen in love with him and killed herself on his funeral pyre.

If it were not for the success of his later works, it seems unlikely that this opera would have been resurrected and completed, let alone produced. That it was is something for which we should be grateful because it enables us to appreciate the development of Janáček’s music. Further, under the baton of Sir Charles Mackerras, who has done so much to promote Janáček’s works this recording explores all the strengths of the score and if only by contrast thereby exposes its weaknesses.

The Czech Philharmonic have a complete ‘feel’ for the music, at times driving excitingly forward, at other times lingering languorously over an emotive folk theme. This is an excellently balanced orchestral performance at all times supportive and strong but never threatening to overwhelm the soloists or choruses.

For me Janáček does not have the empathy with his female lead, the title role, when compared with his writing for his male lead. Šárka is sung here by Eva Urbanová who handles easily the contrast between the shrill vitriol of the warrior and the warmth of the woman in love. With accurate vocal leaping and seamless movement from head to chest voice we can appreciate the strength of her singing even if there are periodic musical weaknesses in the score. My only reservation is a certain lack of tonal beauty but it is a small complaint when set against the performance as a whole.

Vocally she balances well with Peter Straka singing Ctirad. He is an almost Wagnerian tenor with clarity of diction second to none. He has some seriously melodic lines and misses not a nuance. His aria Posvátné ticho is a joy to the ear.

Ivan Kusnjer and Jaroslav Brezina sing the comparatively small roles of Premysl and Lumír respectively. Kusnjer has some opportunities to demonstrate his smooth round baritone whilst Lumír is a supportive role which Brezina’s tenor despatches with clarity.

The chorus has much larger roles than usual and all four sections of the Prague Philharmonic Choir acquit themselves with distinction. The chorus master Jaroslav Brych has enabled them to produce strong sounds in depth with some distinctive contrasts.

Of a not particularly distinguished opera this is an excellent recording. It deserves to be added to a collection for that reason if no other.

Robert McKechnie

seee also reviews by Terry Barfoot and Peter Grahame Woolf

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