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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 73 [40:47]
Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Glagolitic Mass
(1926, final version 1928) [43:25]
Tatiana Monogarova (soprano), Marina Prudenskaja (mezzo), Ludovít Ludha (tenor), Peter Mikuláš (bass); Iveta Apkalna (organ); Peter Dijkstra (chorus master)
Chor und Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Mariss Jansons
rec. live, 31 March 2012, KKL Concert Hall, Lucerne, Switzerland
Video director: Michael Beyer
Sound Formats: PCM Stereo; DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0;
Picture Format: 16:9; Region Code: worldwide; Resolution: 1080i High Definition
Subtitles: GB, DE, FR, Kor (Glagolitic Mass)
ARTHAUS MUSIK 108 080 [88:00] 

This highly appealing Blu-Ray disc from Arthaus contains two works filmed in concert at the annual Lucerne Easter Festival last year. The world class Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks under their chief conductor Mariss Jansons are joined in the Glagolitic Mass by a quartet of Slovak/Russian soloists and the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks quite superbly prepared by Peter Dijkstra.
Opening the concert is the Brahms Symphony No. 2,composed in 1877 just one year after his First Symphony. This D major work was written swiftly mainly during a summer holiday in Pörtschach on Wörthersee Lake, Austria a resort that had become a favourite holiday destination. After completing the score in Lichtenthal near Baden-Baden, Brahms wrote modestly to a friend, “I don't know whether I have a pretty symphony. I must inquire of learned persons!” It was Hans Richer who conducted the première in Vienna with the Philharmonic in 1877.
Jansons and his players are steeped in the music of Brahms. It has been a mainstay of the orchestra since its foundation. Sometimes referred to as Brahms’ Pastoral Jansons’s endearing reading radiates an airy freshness and quiet contentment. Here we encounter an abundance of lyricism and romantic expression coupled with buoyant textures; never dragging or feeling heavy. A slightly more seriousness side is revealed in the brooding slow movement. The Scherzo has some remarkably vibrant playing especially from the glowing woodwinds. The opening oboe solo is notable. In the closing Allegro con spirito there’s a robust sense of Alpine freshness. The work is ended in a majestic manner with trumpets and trombones finally letting gloriously loose in the last few pages.
Janáček’s major contribution to Christian ecclesiastical music is his Glagolitic Mass for soloists, chorus, orchestra and organ. Janáček reached back to Old Church Slavonic script (Glagolitic), the earliest written Slavic language dating from medieval times. Here it could be said that Janáček was highlighting the communion between the Slavic peoples and displaying his patriotic desire for national independence. In five sung movements the body of the mass is preceded by a fanfare Introduction and ends with an organ solo followed by a concluding Intrada.
It was good to have Jansons conducting the Mass. It’s a work that I rarely see programmed, although I am due to attend a Berlin performance by Sir Simon Rattle next week at the Philharmonie. In the Úvod (Introduction) the impressive brass fanfares strongly reminded me of the stirringly lyrical opening of his Sinfonietta. The assured entrance of the chorus intoning the words ‘Lord has mercy on us’ in the Gospodi pomiluj (Kyrie) feels just perfect. Poised Moscow-born soprano Tatiana Monogarova enters with the words ‘Christ have mercy on us’. She shows clear enunciation and matches this with convincing reverence. Right from his first entry in the Slava (Gloria) with the words ‘Thou, who is seated at the right hand of the father’ I was struck by the wholehearted contribution of Slovakian tenor Ludovít Ludha. He sings with such vivid clarity and compelling piety. In the especially dark and threatening CredoSlovak bass Peter Mikuláš is in firm and secure voice for the words ‘and the life of the world to come’. There is some glorious music in this movement especially the stunning episode for low strings. A master-stroke in the Credo is the fairly short organ solo played by Latvian Iveta Apkalna.
Opening with a lovely solo violin the wonderful yet highly challenging Svet (Sanctus) with its layers of repeated motifs for the instrumental groups is played with unforced vibrancy. Marina Prudenskaja the Russian mezzo has little to sing in this work which is a pity as her singing is noticeably rich in tone when it comes to ‘blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’. Her contribution may be modest but it is telling. The final sung movement Agneče Božij (Agnus Dei) feels sinister and is heavy with dark foreboding. Here the Bavarian chorus and bass Mikuláš singing ‘Lamb of God thou takest away the sins of the world’. It’s a splendid example of reverential expression. Making a real impact in the penultimate movement Varhany sólo (Postludium), a dazzling showpiece for solo organ, is Iveta Apkalna’s glowing and commanding playing. The final movement Intrada (Exodus) has Jansons bringing the score to a jubilant close dominated by timpani and brass.
Michael Beyer, the video director, deploys a splendid, crisp colour palette and the performance starts quickly without lots of irritating pre-concert activity. The cameras certainly don’t linger long in any particular area and in that respect interest is engaged and held. My main problem is that the camera often tends to concentrate extremely closely on individual players when it would have been more appropriate to show groups of instruments. I’m unsure if Beyer had sufficient cameras at his disposal as some additional camera angles would have helped; for example, the lack of shots of the male choir is conspicuous.
The sound formats PCM Stereo and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0 are quite superb conveying an agreeable sound perspective and plenty of orchestral detail together with an agreeable balance. The organ solo must have been difficult to capture but it is superbly put across.
In the Glagolitic Mass the English subtitles were adequate although, I would have left them on screen longer when being repeated and also being used by different groups. The accompanying booklet has a decent essay but no separate sung texts and translations.
All round these are winning performances.
Michael Cookson  

Masterwork Index: Brahms symphony 2