Monday, July 26, 2010

Janacek - Glagolitic Mass, Taras Bulba - Ancerl, Czech PO


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Supraphon is overselling by calling all of is recorded output gold, but there are many arresting performances in the series. This one of the Glagolitic Mass, released in 1964, is one of them. It wasn't in Ancerl's nature to be as raw and fierce in this score as Kubelik and others have been. He is often lyrical and tender. Fortunately for him, he has a soprano and tenor who encompass their treacherous parts without screaming. The Czech chorus is the best-sounding, most idiomatic and comfortable that I've ever heard. The Czech Phil. is more rustic -- or is it ragged? -- than several of the international orchestras who have recorded the work, but they too sound completely at home. I agree with the original Gramophone critic who found the organist too tame for his wild obligatto outburst. The same reviewer compared the late Mass with the Sinfonietta written just before it when Janacek was 72 and entering his miraculous late phase, which he called a "new jet from my soul": The Mass displays "the same brightness and pungency of timbre, the same fertile, vigorous way of building whole movements from a single motif."

Supraphon's sound has come up well in remastering, with clarity from orchestra, soloists and chorus. This recording has a you-are-there presence that immediately captures your attention, and it never loses its musicality in the midst of Janacek's impassioned exclamations. Only some strained, wobbly singing here and there is a drawback; otherwise, this reading is a Janacekstandout in the catalog. As for the filler, Taras Bulba, I've been very little focused on Janacek's orchestral productions. The idiom of this three-movement Rhapsody for Orchestra combines diffuse, almost easy-listen romanticism with enough mystery and tangy dissonance to tell us immediately who the composer is. It dates from 1918, when Janacek was 64; the great flood of late operas was two years away, Jenufa was 14 years behind. Ancerl gives it a piquant, sharply etched reading.

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