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Ján Levoslav BELLA (1843–1936)
A Tribute
Festive Mass in E-flat major for soli, mixed choir and orchestra (1880) [26:01]
Deus meus, ad te luce vigilo - offertorium for soprano and orchestra [3:28]
Heil’ge Nacht for bass and orchestra (Robert Prutz) [6:32]
Bergglocke - Weihnacht auf dem Friedhof - aria for soprano and orchestra (Michael Albert) (1899) [6:43]
Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden - cantata for soprano, bass, mixed choir and orchestra (1884) [12:34]
Konzertstück im ungarischen Stile (1893) [10:19]
Eva Susková (soprano); Lucie Hilscherová (alto); Juraj Hollý (tenor); Tomás Selc (bass)
Czech Philharmonic Choir Brno/Petr Fiala
Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra/David Porcelijn
rec. Concert Hall of the Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra, Ostrava, November-December 2010, May 2011
PHAEDRA PH292033 [66:42]

Phaedra here look East and well beyond their accustomed geographical boundaries.

The romantic-era Slovakian, Ján Bella flourished as composer, organist and conductor. His studies went beyond music and included theology with ordination as a priest following in 1866. He lived in Vienna in the 1920s but for his last eight years returned to Bratislava. His string quartets have been explored by Marco Polo courtesy of the Moyzes Quartet (8.223839 and 8.223658). There is also a piano music disc (8.223644). Strangers in 'YouTube-land' can hear his 1874 symphonic poem Osud a ideál (Fate and the Ideal) in the hands of the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra under Oliver von Dohnányi. Wiki sources tell us that Bella also wrote the opera Wieland der Schmied (1880–1890) "to a libretto originally written by Richard Wagner and based on German legend".

The Festive Mass lives up to its name, breaking no new ground, yet celebrating unshakable integrity and faith in the manner of the Haydn masses. It comprises six sections of which the three energetic initial movements are Kyrie, Gloria and Credo. Such is the nature of Bella's reverence that even the last three movements which start prayerfully soon burst into a sort of benevolent rapture. Much the same applies to the miniature, Deus meus, ad te luce vigilo and the bass aria Heil’ge Nacht. Even when Bella puts aside supplication or holy adulation as in Bergglocke - Weihnacht auf dem Friedhof, an aria for soprano and orchestra, he never quite rises from his tried and tested knees. In Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden he returns to the sturdiest of form. Across the five movements, setting German texts, Bella re-affirms his engaging modesty of manner and smiling adulation. This is heard to strong yet intimately communing effect in the movements Meine Hülfe kommt von dem Herrn and Das Heu verdorret - arias for bass and soprano respectively. Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden stands in a lineage traced from the Bach cantatas. For variety we finish with the steadily undulating and broadly Brahmsian tones of a purely orchestral piece: the Konzertstück im ungarischen Stile. It's not that Hungarian in flavour and there's little paprika until about half way through. The brighter colours derive from the noticeably attractive harp part and the modicum of drama Bella finds towards the end. As for a sparks-flying peroration you must look elsewhere.

The notes, set in a well presented and illustrated booklet, are in English, French, Flemish and German.

David Porcelijn has the benefit of skilled, attentive and straightforwardly recorded forces. They leave nothing to be desired in laying out this sincere, expressive yet little considered music.

Rob Barnett



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