This is a good Janacek compilation made all the more attractive at the 2-for-1
The first two works: Idyll and Suite (both for strings), are
early pieces dating from before the works which sluggishly made Janacek's
name internationally. They are a meld of idioms: Dvorák, Elgar even.
The music is sometimes gently angular, stately, serenade-like. They are recorded
and performed with sympathy and attention to orchestral detail. Their message
is a gentle and relaxed one rather like the Elgar Serenade.
The Sinfonietta rounds out the first disc. This is a work of youthful
intoxication written by an elderly man. The performance and recording are
revelatory and vie with the very fine performance by Serebrier with the Czech
State Phil on Reference Recordings. Listen at track 14 (1:40), Allegretto,
to the divided brass choir as one section sings and another provides a violently
spat accompaniment. The Andante has superb depth of sound and clarity:
red-blooded urgent sadness. In the Moderato the rocking accompanimental figure
usually lost in the background here comes across very clearly. Later the
movement opens out into drama with (2.40) wonderfully controlled shrieking
birdcalls. The 'yelp factor' in the horns is not the equal of the Serebrier
recording but is still impressive. The Allegretto is imposing and the final
Andante Con Moto is suitably ecclesiastical as well as celebratory.
The second disc opens with a rather underpowered (by comparison with Serebrier
on Reference Recordings) performance of the overture Jealousy. The
Cunning Little Vixen suite, in two parts, also lacks the woodland magic
and 'charge' which Serebrier found for it in the Reference Recordings issue.
It compares rather limply with the Serebrier but all things are relative
and is enjoyable enough without being as impressive as the Reference Recordings
This is followed by the somewhat discursive The Fiddler's Child which
takes as its subject a grotesque folk-tale. You will recall that Dvorák
wrote a whole cycle of symphonic poems on horrific folk ballads. The piece
has the same 'staying power' as those Dvorák works. The atmosphere
is not comparable with Sinfonietta; not even Taras Bulba. The
world from which this emerges is that of the Lachian Dances rather
than the empowered enchantment of the Glagolytic Mass and the
Sinfonietta. Finally we come to the Taras Bulba triptych. This
too suffers by comparison with the very high standards achieved by Serebrier.
It is by no means an inferior performance although the piece strikes me as
rather overblown and not a patch on the Sinfonietta, its usual stablemate.
Chandos's sound is reliably warm and big. Behlolavek's insights bring out
the poetic and reflective rather than the heroic-dramatic. One of these days
I must refresh my memory on the sound of the original Ancerl Supraphon recordings
from the 1960s.
The design details are, as ever with Chandos, extremely well handled and
their attractive choice of the picture 'Old Man and New Painting' by Carl
Larsson, 1883, is noteworthy. Speaking of notes, these are in English only
(as are all of three 2-for-1s I have reviewed for the site) and are perceptive
and enjoyable to read. The authors are the conductor Gregory Rose and Graham
Melville-Mason. This is a departure for the usually trilingual Chandos discs.
Those notes apparently draw together material from the original issues and
it is to Chandos's great credit that they mention the cuts made by Behlolavek
in the Vixen suite.
Summing up then. this is an attractive collection which is good value for
money. It introduces you to a great deal of Janacek all for the price of
a single disc. The sound quality is impeccable. The Sinfonietta is
given a world-standard performance. The other performances (with the exception
of the voltage-less Jealousy) are never less than good and enjoyable.