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Janacek: Sinfonietta, Violin Concerto, Taras Bulba / Pesek, Tetzlaff

Release Date: 01/12/2010 
Label:  Virgin Classics   Catalog #: 91506  
Composer:  Leos Janácek
Performer:  Christian Tetzlaff
Conductor:  Libor Pesek
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonia Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.

Notes and Editorial Reviews

Pesek presents Janácek, the born-again romantic, in the most glowing terms. For subtlety, for finely-tuned nuance, for balance and shape, no one is more caring or more scrupulous—he won't let go of a phrase until he has well and truly honed it. But there is a problem. His tendency to look after the moment at the expense of the momentum can be a hindrance; his thoroughness occasionally leans towards fussiness—and Janácek can sound too beautiful. Rich-hued Philharmonia brass process through the opening movement of the Sinfonietta, the tone burnished and well-rounded. But this is a brazen, unfettered summons, and whilst Pesek's bass trumpets and timpani cut through well enough, there is no sense of primitive grandeur about the Read more sound. These celebratory fanfares don't sound as though they might just be heralding the very advent of Slavonic culture.

Again, as we launch into the second movement andante (lots of energy, a real spirit of dance in the woodwind), the snickering trombone and tuba ostinato is a mite tasteful, discreet rather than craggily elemental; so, to a point, is the brawny bass line which spurs us on to stratospheric violins and shining trumpets, though true to form Pesek is wonderfully atmospheric, nurturing and distilling the moments of quiet contemplation just prior to the coda. There is uncommon beauty, too, in the deep tuba and heavily veiled strings at the opening of the third movement, and whilst the boisterous middle section is still too tightly reined for my taste, such startling details as the piccolo streaking the texture and the Philharmonia's intrepid first horn whooping for joy into the climax are memorable. Be prepared, though, for a finale where breadth of utterance takes precedence over driving tensions. Even Janaeek's soaring E flat clarinet is here a singularly lyric voice; the long, slow, momentous build to the returning fanfares carries little urgency. The end is no wild and glorious pagan racket, but rather a noble, meticulously layered paean.

Of course, Pesek's collection automatically scores points over the competition by virtue of its uniqueness. Much thought has gone into the choice and interaction of the works. Part way through the reconstructed Violin Concerto (a realization which emerged only as recently as 1988) we experience a triumphant surge of spirit in the music as it quite literally attempts to shake off its chains. It is this spirit and this very music which opens and closes JanaCek's opera From the house of the dead. Various subtitles in the sketches for his Violin Concerto point to the embodiment of a `soul' therein—"The wandering of a soul" reads one. That's as good a description as any for this concise 12-minute Journey'. The soloist, Christian Tetzlaff, is very much a traveller, passing swiftly but expressively through sharply differentiated musical plains. There isn't much on the page, but what there is really speaks: a Bergian march, ear-pricking flecks of fantasy from the harp, a charmingly offbeat waltz in an unlikely duet between the soloist and a lone cor anglais. The instrumental permutations are always surprising, and arresting; the lyricism is intense. Tetzlaff is excellent, secure and untroubled at spending so much of the duration gleaming above the stave.

So to Pesek's Taras Bulba—and more than anything on the disc, this rhapsodic triptych really does warm to his touch. The opening pages are ravishing: exquisite cor anglais and oboe plaints, the tenderest of string bass solos, and an organ so discreetly reassuring that it sounds locked deep in the subconscious. Here Pesek can take time to listen, wait and shape. There's a marvelous moment of stasis just before the final presto of this first movement (a riveting tenuto E natural in the violins), while the finale is particularly notable for the rapture of its luminous string transformation (dolcissimo) in the central maestoso. Taras dies but his prophecy lives on in a resplendent welter of organ (now assertively prominent), chiming timpani and bells. The low horns against high trumpets make a dramatic effect here, the Virgin recording combining immediacy with depth. Try it as a supplement to Mackerras and the Vienna Philharmonic (mid-price Decca), my long-standing recommendation for the two big works. Pesek is low-voltage by comparison, but he has a lot of heart, he means everything he says, and he does offer this intriguing programme.

-- Gramophone [6/1992]
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Works on This Recording

Sinfonietta by Leos Janácek
Conductor:  Libor Pesek
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonia Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1926; Brno, Czech Republic 
Concerto for Violin "Pilgrimage of the Soul" by Leos Janácek
Performer:  Christian Tetzlaff (Violin)
Conductor:  Libor Pesek
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonia Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1927-1928; Brno, Czech Republic 
Taras Bulba by Leos Janácek
Conductor:  Libor Pesek
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonia Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1915-1918; Brno, Czech Republic 
From the House of the Dead: Prelude by Leos Janácek
Conductor:  Libor Pesek
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonia Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1927-1928; Brno, Czech Republic 

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