Taras and Sinfonietta have become a standard coupling ever since the
LP days of Supraphon and Ancerl. So it has continued into the CD era, now
more than fifteen years old.
The competition is hot. For those wishing to relive the analogue splendours,
Supraphon have the original coupling available and I am hoping to review
that at some stage. In addition there are creditable recordings from Naxos,
Decca and a small host of alternatives from Supraphon.
Reference Recordings, with a deserved (and by this disc, maintained) reputation
for big sound which also conveys the poetry and subtlety of the quieter passages
are to be praised for their selection of repertoire which is slightly
'off-centre'. In Sinfonietta and Taras Reference have two works
(especially the former) that are natural 'spectaculars'.
From the momentous rolling fanfares of Sinfonietta the sonorous trumpet
choir are sharply placed on high in the aural landscape. The rest of the
fruitily burred brass and the tetchily impatient woodwind also convey the
impression of being recorded in a big space.
The Sinfonietta is one of those works that is a core 'must have' for
any general classical collection. Slav without being Russian, exotic without
being repugnant, optimistic without being puerile. Janacek's fanfares lodge
firmly in the memory and are rivalled in his output only by those in the
Glagolytic Mass. This recording, in particular, made me wonder whether
Copland heard this work before writing Fanfare for the Common Man.
The bass presence is remarkable but once again the great depth of the soundstage
contributes to the poetics (track 3). This depth consolidates the sense of
Martinu-like plangency. The brass are in resplendent form and their manic
death-hunt whooping and barking at 3.51 (track 3) is an audio and musical
highlight. This is amongst the finest of modern recordings and interpretations.
The Lachian Dances are, as a work, a disappointment by contrast. My
first impressions of this work, formed by hearing an LP (Decca, 1971) recording
conducted by Francois Huybrechts (whatever happened to him? Didn't he record
some Nielsen as well?) are confirmed by the present disc. Low voltage stuff.
The sound picture is just as impressive as for Sinfonietta but the
music is so relaxed as to seem casual - almost ordinary. The dances are an
addition to the Dvorak Slavonic Dances and Rhapsodies but truth
to tell nowhere near as inspired. Highlights include a generous airborne
horn section in the second dance and a sprinkling of rustic charm and jollity.
Taras is interesting as a piece and is well advocated by the artists. I was
struck for the first time by the presence of the harmonium and also by the
debt Copland seems again to have owed to Taras. The diffuse
self-questioning of the first movement is followed by greater concentration
in the second movement. Stabbing, angular, thrusting figures launch heroic
contributions from the brass (notably trombones) in steady, deliberate, poised
and pulsed heroism. The finale is loud with an evocation of pealing bells.
You will go a long way to find a better recorded or interpreted big sound
version of these pieces. Sinfonietta bids fair to be the best available
version. Taras is impressive but as a piece it lacks the compelling
invention to be found in Sinfonietta. As for the dances they remain
a chummy relaxed makeweight. Nice to have.