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Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Jenůfa (Brno version, 1908) [126:38]
Die alte Buryja – Dunja Vejzovic (mezzo)
Laca Klemeň – Aleš Briscein (tenor)
Števa Buryja – Taylan Reinhard (tenor)
Die Küsterin Buryja – Iris Vermillion (soprano)
Jenůfa – Gal James (soprano)
Altgesell – David McShane (bass)
Dorfrichter – Konstantin Sfiris (bass)
Seine Frau – Stefanie Hierlmeier (soprano)
Karolka – Tatjana Miyus (soprano)
Schäferin – Fran Lubahn (contralto)
Barena – Xiaoyi Xu (soprano)
Jano – Nazanin Ezazi (soprano)
1. Stimme / Tante – Hana Batinic´
2. Stimme – István Szécsi
Violin-solo – Fuyu Iwaki
Grazer Philharmonisches Orchester/Chor der Oper Graz/Dirk Kaftan
rec. live, May 2014, Oper Graz.
OEHMS CLASSICS OC962 [68:20 + 58:38]

Jenůfa was Janáček’s third opera, based on the play Její pastorkyňa “Her Stepdaughter”, by Gabriela Preissová. The libretto is a grim tale of complicated relationships in a village context, with violence and tragedy driving the drama. More importantly, this is the opera in which Janáček’s distinctive musical voice became more established after the folk-influenced Romanticism of his earlier period.

There are quite a few recordings of Jenůfa around these days, and I pulled out my copy of the classic 1977 Supraphon recording conducted by František Jílek by way of orientation. I had forgotten quite how good this is, and still sounding very fresh despite its vintage. I was glad to have it to hand, since the libretto in the booklet for this Graz recording is given only in Czech and German, the Supraphon edition helping us out with both English and French as well.

The Graz cast is good, with the main characters all strong enough and mostly well characterised. There are a few weaker moments, but I’m reluctant to point out any names in particular since voices I’d marked up as being weaker links tended to redeem themselves further along. Recorded live, this Graz recording is very much a theatre version as you would expect, so if you are used to more opulent versions such as the EMI, now Warner Classics Prague recording with Libuse Domaninská conducted by Bohumil Gregor this might seem a step backwards. There are advantages to be heard however. The vocal balance is much more natural in the Oper Graz, and while the scale is less grand the orchestral detail is more direct, the impact of the drama less extravagantly ‘operatic’, if you follow my meaning. If language is an issue then Chandos’s version in English (review) might be of interest, but you still need the libretto to hand to really be able to follow what is going on. With Janáček’s specific connections with the setting of his native language to music this always sounds like a distortion too far for me – even with the authoritative conducting of Sir Charles Mackerras.

This Graz production is not the last word on Jenůfa. That honour probably has to go to Elisabeth Söderström and Sir Charles Mackerras with the Vienna Philharmonic on Decca, but this Oehms Classics recording is a version which will grow on you. Personally, I have to admit finding it hard to avoid being drawn back to the special character brought to the title role by Gabriela Beňačková in that Supraphon recording. There is no denying that the strength of an all-Czech cast and orchestra is very compelling in this opera. Gal James is very good as well though, and deeply affecting in crucial moments such as Scene 6 in Act 2 where, all alone, Jenůfa sings of her baby as yet oblivious to the unfolding tragedy. The Stepmother’s anguished cry towards the end is truly chilling, and stands as an emblem for the admirably realistic approach in this production – one you can add to your collection with confidence.

Dominy Clements

 

 



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