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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Glagolitic Mass (1926) [40’53]
Amarus (1897) [29’28]
Gabriela Beňačková, Kvĕtoslava Nĕmečková (sopranos); Eva Randová (contralto); Vilém Přibyl, Leo Marian Vodička (tenors); Václav Zítek (baritone); Sergej Kopčák (bass);
Czech Phil
harmonic Chorus; Brno State Philharmonic Orchestra/František Jílek; Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Charles Mackerras.
Rec. Stadion Studio, Brno, on July 3rd-4th, 1979 (Glagolitic) and Dvorak Hall, Rudolfinum, Prague, on January 30th, 1984 (Amarus). AAD
SUPRAPHON SU3045-2 [70’28]



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This disc has much to recommend it. There is the sheer authenticity of the performers; an acknowledged Janáček expert in the shape of Sir Charles Mackerras for Amarus; and the coupling is positively inspired.

The Glagolitic Mass comes up against massive competition. Ancerl’s 1963 Czech Philharmonic performance also crops up on Supraphon (11 1930-2) and, of course, there is Simon Rattle’s rightly-lauded 1981 account (EMI Great Recordings of the Century CDM5 66980-2), not to mention the expert choral forces of Robert Shaw’s Telarc version (CD80287) from 1990, to refer to only three. The conductor of the present performance, František Jílek, was conductor of the Janáček Opera, Brno and the Brno State Philharmonic (he died in 1993). He was with Brno’s opera company for 25 years, during which he conducted the complete operas of Smetana and Janáček (he also put down Janáček’s complete orchestral works for Supraphon): impeccable credentials!. His immersion with Janáček’s music is evident from his expertly paced ‘Glagolitic,’ his rapport with his players clear from their dedication. This can be heard clearly in the orchestral first movement with its characteristic overlapping brass fragments. Jílek can be warm, also, when appropriate.

Janáček’s compositional mastery manifests everywhere in this magnificent work. The performance is blessed by the soprano soloist, Gabriela Beňačková, a star high in the Supraphonesque firmament. She is entrancing in the ‘Sanctus’, her entrance perfectly prepared by the delicate realisation of Janáček’s score that precedes it . A pity the tenor, Vilém Přibyl, is not quite as subtle, and the bass, Sergej Kopčák, is weak. Contralto Eva Randová makes her mark in the ‘Agnus Dei’. The organ solo (movement 7), played by Jan Hora, is staggering: his pedal work is breathtaking. The only problem is that this seems to have been recorded in a different acoustic entirely (the sound is actually very close indeed). This remains a valuable account of the Glagolitic Mass, however, and it is recommendable.

Mackerras’s recording of the rarely-aired Amarus is something of a find. Whilst coming from earlier in Janáček’s output, his fingerprint is clear. Influences are possibly more pronounced, though: there are some lovely Dvořák-like woodwind moments in the first movement .

Amarus is the tale of a monk who asks an angel when he shall die: the answer is when he fails to put oil in the lamp on the altar. Eventually he is distracted by the sight of two lovers, and the inevitable happens. There is a lyrical, yearning side to the writing. Choir and orchestra realise their parts with total commitment. Leo Marian Vodička is the excellent narrator. A pity that the Czech text and its English translation are not aligned in the booklet so it becomes quite difficult to work out exactly where one is at times. A special mention should go to the solo violin (track 12) and to the lovely woodwind interjections of track 11.

A most rewarding disc, and while Amarus may not be for everyday listening, it remains well worth excavating.

Colin Clarke




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