Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Reviews from other months
LEOS JANACEK (1854-1928) Sinfonietta (1924) [16.28] Lachian Dances (1906) [5.39] Taras Bulba (1928) [6.02] Czech State PO, Brno/Jose Serebrier rec 2-5 Apr 1995, Brno REFERENCE RECORDINGS  RR-65CD [65.08]



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.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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