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Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Orchestral Works Volume 2
JW VI/10 (1895) [5:30]
Violin concerto The Wandering of a Little Soul JWIX/10 (1926? incomplete, completed by Leoš Faltus and Miloš Štědroň, 1988) [12:05]
The Ballad of Blaník JW VI/16 (1919) [7:43]
The Fiddler's Child JW VI/14 (1913) [12:48]
The Danube JW IX/7 Unfinished symphony (1923-25, completed by Leoš Faltus and Miloš Štědroň, 1985) [16:10]
Taras Bulba JW/VI/15 (1915-18) [22:51]
James Ehnes (violin, Concerto)
Melina Mandozzi (violin, The Fiddler's Child)
Susanna Andersson (soprano, The Danube)
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Edward Gardner
rec. Grieghallen, Bergen, Norway, 2014
Hybrid SACD/CD Surround/Stereo, reviewed in surround

This excellent disc is a curious mixture of rejected, real and reconstructed Janáček. Jealousy started life as an overture to Jenufa but was abandoned during rehearsals. The short Violin Concerto is a by-product of his opera From the House of the Dead. The Danube was on Janáček's desk at the time of his death having been in an off-and-on state for several years. These last two have been put into a performable state by Leoš Faltus and Miloš Štědroň. Some details of how they proceeded with their reconstruction are given in John Tyrell's informative notes.

The remaining three works, Blaník, The Fiddler's Child and Taras Bulba, well over half the disc, are fully the work of the composer. If one ignored all this and just listened one would probably remain unaware that anything was not purely the work of this remarkable early twentieth century genius.

The disc opens with Jealousy and one is immediately aware of the very best Chandos surround sound and of music being performed by an orchestra of the utmost virtuosity in the very best, colourful Eastern European style. The woodwinds shrill, the brass cuts through the texture, the timpani hammer out rhythmic patterns, the strings manage both to sing and shout as required. These are Janáček performances of the very finest. It is quite astonishing that this sound comes from a Norwegian orchestra based among the fjords of north-western Scandinavia and directed by the British conductor Edward Gardner. I could really stop there because the rest of the programme is at least as good. However, a few more details. James Ehnes produces the most lovely clean and pure sound in the beautiful Violin Concerto, which, linked as it is to the wonderful prelude of The House of the Dead, is both passionate and soulful, covering much emotional ground in its short 12 minutes. The Ballad of Blaník is a dramatic eight minutes describing the transformation of a band of knight's weapons of war into farm implements. It's derived from a nineteenth century pacifist poem — a tale well suited to Janáček's deeply humane beliefs. The Fiddler's Child depicts a scenario involving the ghostly kidnapping of a child's soul. This provides the composer with multiple opportunities for operatic writing sans voices. In his unfinished symphony The Danube he actually introduces a single voice singing without words, the soprano becoming another instrument in his orchestra. This work is perhaps more interesting than satisfying, but it is worth hearing. Finally on the disc is his great masterpiece Taras Bulba, a three movement epic symphonic poem on a bloodthirsty tale of death and revenge. It uses not only a large orchestra but also the organ, employed to earthshaking effect especially at the very end. Those with a sub-woofer in their system will be glad they bought it. It is interesting to note that the impressive Grieghallen organ is not a pipe organ but is in fact an electronic instrument built to the hall's specification by UK organ builder Copeman Hart and installed in 2005, a fact omitted from the otherwise thorough booklet notes.

Dave Billinge