Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Len Mullenger:

LEOS JANACEK 1854-1928 Sinfonietta1 Glagolitic Mass2   1Philharmonia Orchestra/Simon Rattle 2Felicity Palmer (sop); Ameral Gunson (mez); John Mitchinson (ten); Malcolm King (bass); Jane Parker-Smith (org) City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus and Philharmonia Orchestra / Simon Rattle. Recorded 1983 and 1982 EMI Great Recordings of the Century CDM5 66980 2 [62.19]



Simon Rattle always had something about him and this was (is?) coupled with a most encouraging approach to the less common repertoire. It is to be hoped that this will carry over into the concert programmes of Berliner Philharmoniker. Lofty Elysian fields indeed although often afflicted with a stultifying lack of adventure when it comes to repertoire choice.

During the early 1980s and on leave from the CBSO, EMI assigned the Philharmonia to him. With them he had earlier made a well-received disc of Sibelius 5. Everything works in the Sinfonietta with proverbial synergy. While I recall criticism that the Sinfonietta performance did not ring comprehensively true I do not detect any shortcomings. Indeed the recording is flexible, gripping; not hectoring but still dramatic. I reckon this high in the leagues alongside the absurdly little known Serebrier on Reference Recordings. Rattle's way with the orchestra is wrenchingly resplendent and juicily romantic with that essential dash of autochthonous paprika that marks out a performance for the long-term memory.

The Glagolitic Mass lacks the abrasion of the Ancerl Supraphon through which I first came to know this piece. Hearing those opening fanfares in Rattle's recording reminded me for the first time of Bruckner. The parallel had never once crossed my mind in the Ancerl registration. The singing of the Brummies is fervent but not competitive with Ancerl's choir whose very breath seems infused with primeval fire and incense. Rattle's soloists are in style but again I feel that they are outpointed by the reeking intensity of the Czechs. That said, and much as I love it, the Ancerl is sadly beginning to wear its years rather heavily. Rattle and his singers bring some refinement to the proceedings but not so much as to chamfer off the Czech rawness. The orchestra is a wonder. Jane Parker-Smith gothically plunging organ complements the proceedings. I have not heard the Mackerras which is highly thought of. There is no lack of power in the Mass and would make a happy purchase. There is just that suspicion that more could have been made of it. This compares with a top-flight Sinfonietta to make a desirable disc.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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