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Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Glagolitic Mass (Mša glagolskaja) (September 1927 version) [38:46]
The Eternal Gospel (Věčné evangelium) (1914) [19:25]
Andrea Danková (soprano) (Mass); Jana Sýkorová (alto); Tomáš Juhás (tenor) (Mass); Jozef Benci (bass); Aleš Bárta (organ); Alžběta Poláčková (soprano) (Gospel); Pavel Černoch (tenor) (Gospel)
Prague Philharmonic Choir/Lukáš Vasilek
Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra/Tomáš Netopil
rec. Dvořák Hall of the Rudolfinum, Studio of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Prague, 31 August-3 September 2013 (Mass), 27-28 March 2014 (Gospel)
Texts and English translation included. DDD
SUPRAPHON SU4150-2 [58:20]

This disc contains the premičre recording of yet another version of Janáček's Glagolitic Mass. Like Fauré's Requiem, the published version of the work that was the standard edition performed worldwide has now been challenged by a third. When I wrote my comparative review article on the Glagolitic Mass for this website, little did I suspect there would be another "original" version of this masterpiece to contemplate.

As in the reconstructed 1889 version of the Fauré, recently recorded and reviewed, this September 1927 version of the Glagolitic Mass is a reconstruction of that prepared for the first performance in December 1927. This version was edited by Czech scholar Jiří Zahrádka and published in the Complete Critical Edition of the Works of Leoš Janáček. There is a detailed discussion of this version by Zahrádka in a 2011 article in Das Bärenreiter-Magazin [t]akte and references to what is undoubtedly the Paul Wingfield edition, heretofore called the "original", though Zahrádka does not mention Wingfield by name. Zahrádka claims that the so-called "original version" was based on "several inaccurately interpreted sources and unfounded suppositions." ["September 1927". About the critical edition of Janáček's "Glagolitic Mass"] Be that as it may, Paul Wingfield's research for his "original edition" seems to me painstaking and convincing, as published in his monograph in the Cambridge Music Handbooks series. Both of these editions of the mass were based on manuscripts before the first performance in December 1927. Zahrádka intended the September 1927 version mainly for study and as a supplement to the standard version. Zahrádka also included the standard published version of 1928 in the Complete Critical Edition, correcting some mistakes and "pointless editorial changes," and reinstating the fourteen bars of the Svet that were removed after the first performance because of the choir's technical limitations. After hearing the September 1927 version in performance, however, he became "genuinely enthusiastic", according to his conversation with Tomáš Netopil in the CD booklet, finding it "rawer and more spontaneous". What are the differences, though, between this version and Wingfield's?

What is most apparent is the absence of the Intrada with its fierce brass and timpani at the very beginning of the work. Although the mass was performed with the Intrada as its beginning at the premičre and subsequent performances during Janáček's lifetime, the composer later supposedly decided against its use there and kept it only as the mass's last movement. Zahrádka believes that it is the conductor's decision whether or not to include the Intrada at the beginning; he prefers it only at the end. Obviously Netopil agrees with him, as it would spoil the surprise of such an exciting conclusion to the mass if it were also played at the beginning. The argument to include the Intrada at the start is for the sake of symmetry with two instrumental movements at the beginning and at the conclusion of the work and with the largest movement, the Veruju, in the centre. The work's Introduction (Úvod) with its brass and timpani leaves a powerful impression on its own, even with the faster tempo and changed meter of both "original" versions.

The other major difference between the Wingfield and Zahrádka editions comes in the middle of the Veruju movement, the depiction of the crucifixion (raspet). Zahrádka has the timpani come in a few measures earlier than Wingfield, starting about 5:30 on Netopil's recording. Also at the beginning of that instrumental section at 3:33, commencing with the solo flute, the clarinet trio is on-stage as in the familiar, published version, whereas Wingfield has them offstage. There are other differences, too, such as the use of solo timpani in the final bars of the Slava movement, where Wingfield and the published edition have the organ accompanying the timpani. Those final bars are very incisive in Zahrádka's edition with the notes being clipped. Nonetheless, I don't think any of these differences make one edition preferable to the others. They are all valid and can only add to one's appreciation of the mass.

None of this would matter if Netopil's new recording were not as good as it is. Even if he were using a different score, I would rank this new recording near the top of preferred versions. First of all, he has a wonderfully idiomatic choir and orchestra to work with and they are recorded in spacious, clear sound. The recording is a bit more distant than some others, especially the classic Ančerl, and needs the volume to be raised to achieve the maximum effect. The soloists are all good, particularly the soprano in the Slava and Svet movements. The tenor, who has the other important role, is fine, if rather rough at times, compared to Ančerl's Beno Blachut or Leoš Svárovský's Vladimir Doležal. The contralto and bass are more than satisfactory, even if the bass becomes blustery in the Agneče Božij. Aleš Bárta does yeoman work in the difficult organ parts. His solo movement is as clear and powerful as I've heard it. Sometimes it comes over as a blur, but not here. That exciting Intrada is taken at a perfect tempo, not as fast as some, but with tremendous bite. The brass and timpani bring the work to its rousing conclusion. In fact the brass playing throughout may have just set a new standard for the Glagolitic Mass. There is one place in the Slava movement that is puzzling, however. This concerns the timpani solo from 2:22-2:30. As the part descends, the timpani sound either like they are playing different notes from the other versions of the work with which I am familiar or that the timpani are going out of tune. There is no mention of this change in any discussion of the 1927 edition of the mass I have read. In any case, it sounds wrong to me. If it was a case of tuning, it should have been retaken. That's the only cavil I have with this new account and it is not fatal by any means.

What makes this disc even more attractive is the inclusion of the more rarely performed cantata, The Eternal Gospel. The cantata belongs to the period of Janáček's maturity that produced such works as the tone poem, The Fiddler's Child, and the opera, The Excursions of Mr. Brouček. In other words, it is characteristic of the composer but without quite the degree of originality of his final years. Like the Glagolitic Mass, the soprano and tenor have major roles here and in fact are the only vocal soloists in this work. The orchestra and chorus also play a crucial part, but the soloists in many respects carry the work. The text of The Eternal Gospel is based on a poem by Jaroslav Vrchlický, describing the medieval monk Joachim de Fiore's vision of an angel bringing the eternal gospel to foretell the coming of a kingdom of love. The soprano portrays the angel, and the tenor the monk. The angel is also represented by the solo violin, which Janáček employs memorably as he does in the Svet of the mass. Again like the mass, the brass and timpani have significant parts to play in the cantata. The work is divided into four movements, the first three played without breaks while the last acts as an epilogue. There are three recordings of this piece that I have heard and this new one trumps the other two. One is Svárovský's account, accompanying his Glagolitic Mass (originally Ultraphon, now Arco Diva); the other is Ilan Volkov's with the BBC Scottish Symphony (Hyperion). Svárovský's is idiomatic and very good, but Netopil is even better. Volkov, whose orchestra and chorus are fine, is let down by his vibrato-laden soloists. The soprano and tenor soloists on Netopil's recording are, if anything, better than their counterparts in the Glagolitic Mass on his disc. They leave little to be desired, and the orchestra and chorus perform superbly.

While the pairing of these choral works makes this disc inviting, it is this new version of the Glagolitic Mass that makes it mandatory for anyone who loves Janáček. For the standard, published version there is always Ančerl's Supraphon account, which is showing its age both as to sound and orchestral execution, or Svárovský's more recent one, which is very well played and recorded. If one is in the market for the standard version, as amended by Zahrádka, then Sir Charles Mackerras's 1984 recording with the Czech Philharmonic (Supraphon) likely comes closest. He reinstates the fourteen bars missing near the end of the Svet, but otherwise follows the standard score. His account stands the test of time in the vibrancy of the performance. For the Wingfield edition, I would go for Mackerras either in his opulent Chandos recording with the Danish orchestra and chorus - it adheres to the Wingfield score in the minutest detail - or the later DVD with the Czech Philharmonic that remains my favourite of that version. Interestingly, Netopil in the disc's booklet conversation finds his approach to Janáček closest to Mackerras's by not watering down or refining the musical language. His interpretations here of both the mass and cantata bear this out.

Leslie Wright

Comparative Review of Glagolitic Mass Recordings