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Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Glagolitic Mass (1926 rev. 1929) [39.59]
Taras Bulba - Rhapsody for Orchestra (1915-18) [22.21]
Libuše Domanínská (sop)
Věra Soukoupová (alto)

Beno Blachut (ten)
Eduard Haken (bass)
Jaroslav Vodrážka (organ)

Prague Philharmonic Choir/Josef Veselka
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Karel Ančerl
rec. 16-20 Apr 1963 (Glagolitic Mass); 22-24 May 1961 (Taras), Dvořák Hall, Rudolfinum, Prague. ADD
Karel Ančerl Gold Edition Vol. 7

SUPRAPHON SU3667-2 911 [62.34]

Many listeners now entering their fifties and sixties (and I suspect quite a few others) will have imprinted on these versions. They will have heard them on various Supraphon LPs from the sixties and seventies. Of course there have been other versions - quite a few in fact. Very few, however, have been able to hold a torch to the fervour that burns through the Ančerl recording.

In the case of the Glagolitic Mass listen to the choir at 4.24 in the Gloria. The orchestra had been coached to unanimous perfection over four days yet without a virile liveliness of expression being drilled out of them. While Domanínská and Soukoupová suffer some squall and hardness in their voices their singing has forbidding commitment. The organist Jaroslav Vodrážka brings a vehemence that is little short of vicious in the Credo. This is offset by the honeyed choral calls of 'veruju' at 8.49. As for the desperation in exultation that suffuses the Intrada/Exodus it has not in my experience been repeated. Although a trace of hardness is apparent this is a small and a soon perceptually vanishing price to pay for the special poise Ančerl was able to strike between fervour and precision in this classic of the gramophone.

Compare Kempe on Decca, Bernstein on Sony, even Rattle on EMI. Although I usually reject the primacy of national interpreters the Czechs provide the strongest examples in the case of the Glagolitic Mass. Kubelik with Bavarian forces is good as also is Neumann and Mackerras (Supraphon) and Bakala's historic recording is highly regarded. Leoš Svarovsky's Ultraphon CD (UP 011-2 231) has also been feted recently on the r.m.c.r. newsgroup.

Also a landmark is Ančerl's recording of Taras Bulba based on the novel by Gogol. Its usual stable-mate is the Janáček Sinfonietta, a work which overshadows Taras in the quality of its invention - melody and treatment. Here Ančerl is yet again a pioneer. For many years it was the only version available. In the 1980s the Janáček revival put an end to all that. Although deservedly less popular than the Sinfonietta there is still plenty of opposition. The most effective is from Kubelik (Bavarian Radio) on DG but Mackerras (Vienna Philharmonic) on Decca is also a doughty contender though rather too refined for my tastes. For me the definitive version is to be found on Reference Recordings. Stokowski protégé, Jose Serebrier recorded the Sinfonietta, Taras, various poems, opera preludes, suites and fantasies with the Czech National Radio Orchestra all captured in state of the art sound. Those two discs are now available at two for the price of one - a stunning bargain.

Returning to this classic Supraphon issue, it was recordings such as these that prompted the Toronto Symphony's governing board to invite Ančerl to become the orchestra's principal.

Resplendent in its 24 bit digital remastering this offers the best compromise between Czech passion and high quality audio. The singing in the Mass is fervent and almost fanatical.

Rob Barnett


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