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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    




Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Orchestral works, volume 2

Taras Bulba
Adagio
Suite, Opus 3
Overture: Jealousy
Cossack Dance
Serbian Kolo
The Fiddler's Child
The Ballad of Blaník

Brno State Philharmonic Orchestra/Frantisek Jílek
Recorded 25-26 June 1986 (Taras Bulba), 11-16 June 1991 (Adagio, Suite, Dance, Kolo), 7-10 Sept 1992 (Jealousy, Fiddler's Child, Ballad of Blaník), Stadion Studio, Brno
SUPRAPHON 11 1521-2 031 [73.10]
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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.

The music collected here spans from the composer's early years through to the rhapsody Taras Bulba, which he completed in 1918. It is one of his greatest achievements, expressively and dramatically, while also full of the most extraordinary orchestral subtleties. As listeners we cannot know this music too well; each hearing and each new performance will uncover more rewards. Thus it proves here, with Jílek and the Brno orchestra reliable and committed interpreters. There may not be the virtuosity of some performances, but the tempi are well judged, the phrasing sensitive to the musical development, and the power of the climaxes is undeniably dramatic (Try track 1: 7.04). If there is a criticism it is that the ample acoustic which houses the recording creates plenty of atmosphere, but has the effect of making the impact less striking than it might have been. However, the experience remains perfectly satisfying, and this is a rewarding performance.

If Taras Bulba is the strongest composition on display, the remainder of the programme has abundant interest also. Best of the other pieces are the two symphonic poems, The Fiddler's Child and the Ballad of Blaník. The former has links with Dvořák's symphonic poems, and we should remember that Dvořák was Janáček's senior by only thirteen years. Although the Violin Concerto (contained in volume 3 of this series) has made a recent and significant impression, Janáček did write a substantial concertante part for the soloist in this symphonic poem, as its title reminds us (Try track 12: 0.00). It is also tightly dramatic and atmospherically takes up the opportunities offered by a typical Czech legend.

The Ballad of Blaník, of course, has links with Smetana's great cycle of symphonic poems, Ma Vlást. Nor need this Janáček piece defer to its predecessor (entitles simply Blanik). The orchestration is particularly effective, and is one of the chief reasons why the work confirms the composer's commitment to the nationalist cause in the days before a nation state had been established (Try track 13: 0.00).

Of the remaining items, there are some characterful dances and the Adagio. The latter was first performed in 1930, two years after the composer's death. All these pieces date from the 1890s and are competent rather than inspired. Would we be interested in them if they were by a lesser composer? The four-movement Suite also dates from 1891, and like the Jealousy Overture (originally intended for Jenufa) it has links with an opera, in this instance The Beginning of a Romance. The music is attractive, engaging and, as ever with this composer, rhythmically alive (Try track 5: 0.00). In sum, this collection features idiomatic performances and an abundance of fine music.

Terry Barfoot

 


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