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Leos JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Sinfonietta (1926) [25:03]; Preludes: The Makropoulos Affair [5:14]; Kat'a Kabanova [4:45]; From the House of the Dead [5:36]; Jealousy (original overture - Jenufa) [5:50]
Jaromir WEINBERGER (1896-1967)
Schwanda the Bagpiper: Polka and Fugue (1927) [8:01]
Bedřich SMETANA (1824-1884)
Bartered Bride, B 143/T 93: Overture (1863-70) [6:19]
Pro Arte Orchestra/Charles Mackerras rec. 19-24 July 1959, Walthamstow Assembly Halls, London, stereo. ADD
EMI CLASSICS ENCORE 2357202 [61:32] 
Experience Classicsonline

A milestone recording returns to availability. This time it’s on the bargain price ‘Nipper Collection’ Encore series. 

Old-timers - that's me - will recall this from its gatefold Pye LP avatar which portrayed the orchestra with all those Sinfonietta trumpeters strung out across the unfolded breadth of the opened sleeve. The recording is now fifty year old analogue but can give many more recent recordings a run for their money. The spatial reach is wide and the recording sports a wealth of detail. I still favour the under-recognised Serebrier on Reference if you must have more modern recording quality but this pioneering recording is tangy and satisfying. It exudes the excitement of discovery and a certain primeval ‘grit’ missing from the lauded VPO/Mackerras Decca. The orchestra is presumably the LSO in contractual motley. They sound as good as they did again in later years for Previn in the 1970s. The playing is stunning - listen to the sensual skirl of the flutes at 3:01 in the moderato. This represents great work from engineer Bob Auger. The age of the recordings is evidenced by the fine textured quiet hiss and by a suspicion of steel in the fortissimo brass. With Naxos launching a series of Janáček operatic suites we will be hearing more of this music - a good thing too. The Makropoulos prelude is busily exciting and heroically passionate. That to Kat'a Kabanova is more inward and sensitively spiced with angst. In 1959 From the House of the Dead was specialist stuff indeed. With its Slav edginess and occasional Straussian swoon the Prelude is a capricious thing. One slight piece of damage sounds like the result of a tape ruckle within a minute of the start of the Prelude. Jealousy was the original overture to Jenufa. Here it sounds busily emotional - packed with bristling life and unruly detail. 

Weinberger's Schwanda the Bagpiper - Polka and Fugue are bucolic bonbons with a Mid-European wheeze and hiccough. The whole Schwanda opera was first recorded in 1982 by CBS and issued on an early CD set (M2K 79344). The conductor was Heinz Wallberg (1923-2004) with Munich Radio forces and a first team line-up of Hermann Prey, Lucia Popp and Siegfried Jerusalem. That set sank far too soon and should be reissued though the Naxos recording is much more than a consolation. Sadly, people seem to have run scared, or at least indifferent, from Weinberger's other works including his Lincoln Symphony and Saxophone Concerto. They’re both estimable and it’s a pity the former was not included in Naxos’s recent collection of Lincoln pieces. His music – which also includes four other operas as well as various orchestral pieces - stands in direct line with that of Smetana whose skitter-shudder Bride concludes this EMI disc in fine style.

Bargain price this disc may be but it has a lot going for it and the liner-notes are good. 

Rob Barnett


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