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Josef SUK (1874-1935)
Mass in B (1888) [23:26]
Josef Bohuslav FOERSTER (1859-1951)
Glagolitic Mass, Op. 123 (1923) [18:20]
Zdenek FIBICH (1850-1900)
Missa brevis, Op. 21 (1885) [21:15]
Narta Fadkjevičová (soprano); Jana Tuková (alto); Ondřej Socha (tenor); Jan Morávek (bass)
Vladimír Jelínek (organ) (Suk); Petr Čech (organ) (Foerster and Fibich)
Charles University Choir Prague/Jiří Petrdlík (Foerster and Fibich)
Prague Youth Chamber Ensemble/Jakub Zucha (Suk)
rec. 25 May 2008 (Foerster), 27 March 2010 (Fibich), 26-27 January 2013 (Suk), Martinů Hall, Academy of Performing Arts, Prague
ARCODIVA UP0117-2 231 [63:01]

This CD usefully and enjoyably collects three little-known Czech masses. Josef Foerster’s Glagolitic Mass predates Janáček’s masterwork by three years; from the height of the Czech romantic era come masses by Zdenek Fibich and the teenage Josef Suk. If you listened to the recording without looking at the book, you might not realize that the choir is amateur and the orchestra a group of students.
Josef Suk’s Mass in B was finished at the age of 14 or 15; he revised the work almost up until his death, but the Charles University Choir presents the original version. It’s pretty and very charming, with nearly operatic solo arias for soprano and alto, and a chamber orchestra accompaniment that’s mostly in the background. In fact, its subtlety is one of the best things about the piece.
The Foerster Glagolitic Mass has no orchestra, and neither does the Fibich Missa brevis; they content themselves with choir and organ. The Foerster is being performed for the first time in fifty years, and recorded for the first time ever; it’s interesting in that its musical language is almost as old-fashioned as the actual words of the text, with a simplicity and harmonic elegance that harken backwards to the Renaissance as well as forwards to Morten Lauridsen and company. There are downright medieval Gregorian elements in the “Slava” especially. I can’t imagine a bigger contrast with Janáček’s piece. That said, the “Veruju” is suitably full of dread and 20th-century twists and turns.
Fibich, who often seems like very early Dvořák in his abundant tunes, rustic dances, and amiable charm, contributes the earliest piece on the album. It’s also my favourite, a work of sweet innocence and simple beauties. The “Kyrie” calls to mind the Brahms choral Ave Maria, and other movements aren’t dissimilar.
The Charles University Choir is Prague’s oldest amateur choir, and they recorded this album over multiple concert seasons. Conductor Jakub Zucha contributes one of the most appealing, self-effacing booklet notes I’ve ever read, apologizing for the long time it took to record, happily shrugging off the inevitable loss of money involved, and signing off with the line, “Dear listeners, have a pleasant time listening to the little hour of music that we have prepared for you.” It would be enough to forgive any serious flaws, except there aren’t any. The choir may not exactly be the world’s best, but it does a good job, certainly never a bad one, and two organists lend calming support. The sound quality is especially fine, across all three years, given the provenance. In short, I did have a pleasant time. You will too.
Brian Reinhart