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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 Blu-ray 108080 [88:00]

When I received this Blu-ray for review recently I presumed that the two works came from different concerts given at the Lucerne Easter Festival. That doesn’t appear to be the case, however, for the booklet states quite clearly that both were performed on the same date, though they make a most unusual – and interesting - coupling.

The Brahms brought back very happy memories for me. A good few years ago I went to a concert in Symphony Hall, Birmingham given by Jansons and this orchestra. I went with an old friend, now sadly deceased; in fact, it was the last concert we attended together. The symphony was the Brahms Second and it was given a magnificent performance. My friend, who had cut his teeth on recorded performances by the likes of Furtwängler, Toscanini and Weingartner, said to me, in delight, as we left the hall: “I never thought to hear it played like that”. Shortly thereafter I acquired Jansons’ Amsterdam recording on disc and admired it very much (review) but it’s even better to see him conduct it again.

Jansons does the symphony wonderfully well. My only regret is that he opts not to take the exposition repeat in the first movement. That’s a great pity in any performance but all the more so when the passage has been played so marvellously as here. He moulds the music with evident care and affection and achieves a fine lyrical flow yet when Brahms demands it there’s strength and tension in the playing. The first horn gives a terrific account of the key solo near the end of the movement and since he’s on great form throughout the symphony I wasn’t surprised that he was the first principal singled out by Jansons for an individual bow at the end.

The slow movement glows from start to finish. As in the first movement, the violas and cellos delight with their burnished tone but, then, all the strings and the woodwind choir also distinguish themselves in this movement. Jansons invests the finale with great drive and brio. This is a happy, spirited performance and the coda is simply exuberant. It’s a wonderful account of the symphony and I’m not surprised that the Lucerne audience greeted it with acclaim.

There’s much to admire in the performance of the Glagolitic Mass. For one thing the Bavarian Radio Choir make just as marvellous a contribution as I would expect. Their singing has great impact in the hard-hitting sections of the Gloria and Credo and there’s exuberance in their delivery of the ‘Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory’ section of the Sanctus – an exuberance that’s mirrored in the orchestra. But just as impressive is their soft singing, especially in the Agnus Dei.

Jansons has a very good solo team at his disposal. The bass and alto have relatively little to do – the alto in particular – but both singers do well. Tatiana Monogarova is highly impressive in the soprano role, beseeching in the Kyrie and powerful in the opening stretches of the Gloria. She’s fully caught up in what she’s singing and her tone is very pleasing indeed: the tone is rich and full and there’s no hint of shrillness despite the demanding tessitura. The tenor has an equally taxing role and Ludovít Ludha is a success. There’s a ringing clarity to his voice at all times and he projects strongly and firmly. In the crucial passage of the Credo, where the tenor professes belief in the Catholic and Apostolic Church, Ludha makes it a clarion call.

The fifth soloist is the organist, Iveta Apkalna. She’s perched precipitously – or so it seems – above the platform at the console of the four-manual Goll organ, built in 2000. This seems to be a fine instrument and Ms Apkalna harnesses its resources expertly, most obviously in the penultimate movement, the thrilling organ solo. She despatches this in an exciting fashion, her playing lithe and athletic.

The orchestral contribution is very fine indeed. The highlight for me is the instrumental interlude in the middle of the Credo which begins with a very beautiful rendition of the lyrical passage – the splendid cellos to the fore – before gathering momentum and urgency in a most satisfying way.

The only reservation I have is that I miss the wildness and raw impact that’s surely an essential ingredient of this score. In that respect the benchmark continues to be set by Karel Ančerl in his memorable 1963 Supraphon recording, though I do take Robert Hugill’s point that the singing isn’t quite on the same level as the playing (review). Perhaps Sir Charles Mackerras, in his Supraphon CD recording (33C37-7448) offers a better mixture of the authentic Czech tang allied to the refinement that Jansons brings to this score. Jansons smoothes a few of the rough edges off Janáček’s writing but it’s still a very fine performance.

The Blu-ray offers good, clear sound with plenty of body and crisp, clear pictures. The video direction presents the concert in a straightforward way – which is fine by me – and the camerawork is unobtrusive and relevant to what’s going on.

All in all, if the somewhat unusual coupling appeals, as it does to me, then this is a very desirable package.

John Quinn

Previous reviews: Dave Billinge (Blu-ray & DVD) & Michael Cookson (Blu-ray)



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