Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.
Taras Bulba. The Cunning Little Vixen:
Suite (arr. Jílek)
Jonathan Nott, cond; Bamberg SO
TUDOR 7135 (Hybrid multichannel SACD: 61:42)
His Sinfonietta is almost unique among Janá?ek’s major
works for having no story line (although he supplied suggestive movement titles for its 1926 premiere). His concertos are all programmatic, and both string quartets illustrate their subtitles. The 1877 Suite for Strings is in essence a “pre-Janá?ek” work; only the violin sonata steers clear of extra-musical associations. Yet the Sinfonietta encapsulates the essential Janá?ek: some of its sections scream in agony, others coo with the sylvan colors of
. It is a spectacularly original and endlessly fascinating piece, but one that drains the listener, so it’s not one to repeat too often. The fine young conductor Jonathan Nott brings the requisite extremes of ferocity and tenderness. He has done wonders with the Bamberg Symphony over the past decade, but comparisons with Mackerras’s famous Decca recording—a touchstone if ever there was one—make it clear that the Bambergers are still no match for the Vienna Philharmonic. One might argue that the burnished, smooth Viennese tones are not right for this gritty, elemental music, but those tones are irresistible. A solo trombone speaks at 2:19 into the Moderato; Vienna’s is slightly flat, but it is nevertheless lovelier and more effective than Bamberg’s more accurate instrument. I hope that such nits are worth picking, but they do not detract from either of two great performances. A monaural 1951 broadcast of the Concertgebouw under Klemperer gave us a fierce, bone-rattling Sinfonietta that stands at the opposite pole from the suave Mackerras. Between them, they define this music. Nott gives us an intermediate choice, not a compromise, but a successful realization of both sides of the Sinfonietta equation.
is closer to the consensus of many Czech performances than is Mackerras’s Vienna performance, which tends toward the grandiose. Nevertheless, the VPO’s playing, the acoustic of the Sofiensaal, and Decca’s marvelous 1981 sound—rare perfection for an early digital recording—remain overwhelming. I’m very taken with Libor Pešek’s Virgin Classics recording with the Philharmonia, which finds more colors and less bombast in the piece than most performances, but it seems not to be available in the U.S. nor from mdt.co.uk. There have been innumerable fine Czech recordings, by virtually every noted Czech conductor and orchestra. Particularly interesting is a 1952 monaural recording by the Brno Radio Symphony under B?etislav Bakala, who studied with Janá?ek and wrote the published two-piano score of
František Jílik’s arrangement of music from
is taken from different sections of the opera than Václav Talich’s suite. Both miss out on some of Janá?ek’s finest music: Talich basically rearranged the first act, ignoring the glorious final peroration; Jílik begins in the middle of act I, skipping the marvelous Prelude. Taken together, they cover much of the opera with little duplication. As had been the case with Mussorgsky, conservative musicians felt that Janá?ek’s revolutionary music had to be toned down, its “errors” corrected, to make it acceptable. Nevertheless, each suite contains magnificent music; Mackerras’s Vienna recording of the Talich and Nott’s Bamberg one of the Jílik are both gorgeous. Mackerras’s recent Supraphon recording with the Czech Philharmonic, which supposedly restores Janá?ek’s orchestration (but not the voices) has eluded
and this reviewer.
It would never occur to a European record producer to dumb down a CD so that the SACD will seem even more superior than it really is. While the SACD layer enlivens the Bamberg strings and softens the woodwind colors, it also brings out some unattractive rough edges among the Sinfonietta’s 11 trumpets. Oddly, surround sound disguises the problem, possibly because the ears are now bombarded with so much information that this single aspect does not register as strongly. The more conventionally orchestrated
blooms on SACD and in surround sound, its colors purified and polished. It also points up how ordinary Jílik’s scoring of
is by isolating a fine solo oboe. There is no further trouble with the brass, suggesting that the eight extra trumpeters were the problem in the Sinfonietta. This is the first SACD appearance for any of these works, and this fine disc should please everyone with surround-sound capability. Those who lack them needn’t fret, however: I find Mackerras’s Decca recordings to be even more glamorous in just plain digital stereo.
FANFARE: James H. North
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