If you want one don’t you want them all? We collected
the Mackerras-Janáček series one LP boxed set at
a time as they were issued. Then came their CD replacements.
But beyond those battalions came the 9 CD box of all the collaborations
 which currently retails for £47. This two disc
Makropulos Case in the Decca ‘Originals’
(so-called) series is on offer for £17. So, I suppose,
since economics does come into it, given the now classic status
accrued by these performances, you had better work out your
priorities; individual sets or go the whole hog and collar the
lot. I’d go for the latter option by the way, but you
may have gaps in your collection that may be satisfied by a
more precision-targeted approach.
I mention all this at the outset because the big Decca box referred
to above is so outstanding a bargain. This isn’t to say
that you won’t want to augment performances from the Supraphon
catalogue or indeed elsewhere. But it does illustrate the strength
in depth of that marvellous body of recordings. In the case
of Makropulos, the obvious antecedent is Bohumil Gregor’s
mid-1960s performance on Supraphon 1083512. There’s the
Silja DVD from Glyndebourne as well.
Still, this 1978 recording had editorial advantages given that
John Tyrell’s work on the ‘original’ edition
established its functionality and superiority as a theatrical
work of art. Those who know what I suppose one could call the
kind of bowdlerised edition will know that in the Tyrrell-Mackerras
version there is no final chorus. The starkness befits the subject
matter that much better.
The intervening years have also brought losses, and this is
true in the case of Elisabeth Söderstrom. Those who found
her an odd choice for Emilia Marty presumably didn’t know
that she gave the first concert and staged performances of the
work in France; Paris in 1966 and the staged performance in
Marseille in October 1968. In both cases Charles Bruck conducted.
She was in her own way something of a pioneer and her rapport
with the central character, and her idiomatic Czech, are remarkable,
vivid examples of her art.
The spatial balances established by the Decca team remain as
convincing as when one first heard them. The sense of a performance
is established immediately. Then there is the question of dialogue
rapidity, the natural establishment of Czech speech rhythms
and the dictates of a recorded operatic experience - these things
permeate the second scene (Ach je, ach bože) where
the Vítek of Vladimir Krejčík sets the authentic
tone. One can admire too the distracted intensity of Anna Czaková’s
Krista, a sometimes overlooked cast member when all ears rend
to turn to Söderstrom or to the Gregor of Peter Dvorský
- and rightly so, since they’re both superb, the latter
maintaining an ardency that is compelling; hear him at his apogee
in his meeting with Marty Konečně… Dobře,
Gregor in Act I. This was in fact, but for the heroine,
an all-Czechoslovak cast, and sported Beno Blachut, then sixty-five,
as a typically characterful Hauk-šendorf.
The strings of the Vienna Philharmonic impart a lustrous Puccinian
glow when required - the Moravian composer seldom sounded as
in love with the Italian master as he does in Act II’s
scene with Marty (Tos ty, Bertíku - CD1 track
13). Then too there is the supple blandishment of the Vienna
winds to enchant one. These qualities are famously more rounded
than Prague or Brno forces but they are undeniably effective
and they impart no sense of unwonted ‘glamour’.
There is a dual language (Czech/English) libretto and the documentary
notes, with detailed examples of Janáček’s
correspondence with Karel Čapek, from whose play the opera
was taken, furnished fascinating detail on the collaborative
art - the libretto famously was the composer’s own.
A previous CD incarnation allowed in some performances by David
Atherton but this one retains only the Lachian Dances in
the perfectly decent but not very special London Philharmonic
Dances/François Huybrechts recording.