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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    




Leos JANÁČEK (1854-1928)

Orchestral works, volume 3
Sinfonietta (1926)
The Danube: Symphony in 4 Movements (1926)
Violin Concerto: The Wandering of a Little Soul (1926)
Incidental Music: Schluck und Jau (1926)
Brno State Philharmonic Orchestra/Frantisek Jilek
Recorded 14-16 April 1986 (Sinfonietta), 22-25 January 1992 (remainder), Stadion Studio, Brno
SUPRAPHON 11 1522-2 031 [63.12]
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It is a tribute to Janáček'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.

Even so, the Indian Summer that is Janáček's final decade contains far more music than the great operas and instrumental works on which his reputation as one of the century's greatest composers rests. This disc is worth hearing for that reason alone, since all the music dates from 1924 or later, yet only the Sinfonietta is at all well known.

Composed in 1926, the Sinfonietta uses a large orchestra, the outer movements requiring a complement of extra brass, including fourteen trumpets. While this Supraphon recording has the company's preferred resonant acoustic, it is still most impressive, allowing the magnificence of the sound to swell (Try TRACK 1: 1.10). This orchestra is the authentic Janáček orchestra, since the composer spent most of his creative life in the city, and Frantisek Jilek is a sympathetic interpreter. Other performances (try Rafael Kubelik on DG) may have more brilliance and bite, but Jilek always makes the right judgements.

It is not only the celebrated outer movements of the Sinfonietta that contain remarkable music, the whole of the work is remarkable. It is one of Janáček’s best compositions. Distinctive and inspired, the potent motifs which from which the material of each movement develops, are given just the right pacing and shaping (Try TRACK 4: 0.00). In every way this is a valid and a committed performance, though the listener will have to make a personal judgement about the acoustic.

The short Danube Symphony plays for sixteen minutes, and has never established a strong repertory position. It was inspired by a visit to Bratislava in 1923 and composed the following year, although never completed. The recent version is the work of Leos Faltus and Milos Stedron, who were also responsible for the completion of the Violin Concerto, while the incidental music Schluck und Jau was reconstructed by Jarmil Burghauser.

The nature of the symphony is captured by the final sentence of the insert note by Jana Smakalov: 'Although The Danube has remained a torso, waiting for a final revision and montage, the material it contains and its musical potential are such that it should not be forgotten in the unfinished form.' The third movement introduces an unexpected role for a coloratura soprano, and the music is particularly striking (Try TRACK 8: 0.00).

Of these unknown works, it is the Violin Concerto, The Wandering of a Little Soul, that has come closest to establishing a regular position on the international concert platform. It was composed in 1926 after Janáček's visit to London, inspired by the playing of Adila Fachiri in the Violin Sonata. A single twelve-minute movement, until its reconstruction in 1988 it was always considered to be only a fragment, whereas it was practically complete. Apparently the problem was caused by the composer's untidy working methods, since several pages were found amid the manuscripts of the later opera The House of the Dead, to which some of the music relates. The performance is strong and distinctive, with Ivan Zenaty a committed and able soloist (Try TRACK 10: 5.23).

The ten minutes of incidental music to Schluck and Jau dates from Janáček's last year, 1928, when he was asked to contribute music for a play by Gerhart Hauptmann. His death on 12th August frustrated the plan, and the music remained unheard until the leading Czech musicologist Jarmil Burghauser reconstructed it in 1978 from the sketches. While this is in no sense a substantial achievement, it does rank as possibly the last music Janáček composed, and as such is certainly worthy of our attention (Try TRACK 11: 0.00). In this sense it is typical of this enterprising and worthwhile disc.


Terry Barfoot

 


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