Janacek: Orchestral Works, Vol. 3 / Gardner, Bergen Philharmonic

Release Date: 3/25/2016
Label: Chandos
Catalog Number: CHSA 5165
Composer: Leos Janácek
Conductor: Edward Gardner
Number of Discs: 1

Physical Format:

In Stock
Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players

This is the third installment of Edward Gardner’s Janá?ek series for Chandos. I found a good deal to admire in the previous two volumes. As before, Gardner here offers a program that mixes a mature masterpiece with lesser-known works.

The Adagio for Orchestra certainly falls into the latter category. In the notes by Janácek expert John Tyrrell we learn that this was probably composed in 1890 and may have been a reaction to the death of the composer’s infant son towards the end of that year. It’s very interesting to experience it and here it benefits from a convinced performance.

Otce náš, a setting of the Lord’s Prayer in Slavonic was written a few years later. It originated as a small stage work and John Tyrrell gives the background in some detail. Originally scored for tenor solo, chorus and piano, the 1906 revision, which is recorded here, replaced the piano with harp and organ. It is, in effect, a miniature cantata in five sections. The present performance, in which Johannes Wik and Karstein Askeland accompany the combined forces of the Edvard Grieg Kor and Bergen Cathedral Choir, is highly committed. So too is the contribution of Stuart Skelton, who has a lot to do.

Zdrávas Maria is a setting in Czech of the ‘Ave Maria’. This is essentially a soprano solo though there’s a fairly limited part for a four-part choir. The accompaniment features the combination of organ (Karstein Askeland) and violin (David Stewart, the leader of the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra). Sara Jakubiak sings the solo part with great feeling and very pleasing, warm tone.

The mainstay of the program is the Glagolitic Mass. I’m hard put to it to think of a choral work that is as physically exciting as this one. In its way it’s as elemental as Le Sacre du Printemps. Can Gardner and his predominantly Norwegian forces do justice to it? The orchestra Introduction promises much: the sound of the brass is vivid while the strings and woodwind are agile and eager; the orchestral playing as a whole is very incisive, which is a key attribute needed in such music as this.

When the choir enter in the Kyrie they make a fine initial impression. I was also pleased to find that they’re well positioned in the aural image. The American soprano Sara Jakubiak is very communicative in her singing and there’s no trace of Slavic wobble.

The soprano launches the Gloria and Ms Jakubiak does so in fine style. Her timbre in these pages is characterful and I like both her joyful singing and the clear-textured accompaniment. As the music unfolds she’s dramatic and seems well ‘inside’ the music. The choir, too, contributes most impressively and I like the way that the sound of the organ is integrated even though it was recorded in a separate location. Stuart Skelton’s first entry is full-blooded and he continues in heroic vein. Hereabouts the orchestra is terrifically incisive – the timpani particularly exciting – and the combined choirs are very much on their mettle. Gardner’s pacing of the closing section of this movement is buoyant and at the very end the timpani and organ really make their mark.

The Credo is at the heart of the work. Skelton sings with ringing assurance at “... in one Lord, Jesus Christ” but, pleasingly, he is just as successful when Janá?ek requires a more lyrical approach soon after that. The strong singing of bass soloist Gábor Bretz does not disappoint either.

The delicate orchestral playing at the start of the Sanctus - and in many other parts of this movement - is a delight. A little later the “Heaven and earth” passage is boisterous and joyful. All four soloists do well in the Benedictus section. The subdued tension generated by the orchestra at the start of the Agnus Dei is just right. In this movement the chorus is very eloquent as, indeed, are the soloists.

The organ postlude is marvelous. The organ sound is full-throated and reedy. Thomas Trotter displays agile virtuosity and his thrilling playing is brilliantly captured by the engineers. All that remains is the Intrada, which is delivered with exuberance. This last movement allows one more telling contribution from the timpani and the Bergen brass. If this were a liturgical performance – which would never happen - then this dynamic account of the last movement would send the congregation out of the church and into the sunshine with a real spring in their step and smiles on their faces.

This is a very fine performance of Janácek’s choral masterpiece. The soloists are excellent, as are the chorus and orchestra. For his part, Edward Gardner really gets hold of the score and directs it with flair and drama. This, I think, is the best release to date in this series.

Anyone wanting a library version of the work can invest in the new Gardner version with confidence. It’s a very fine, exciting performance and Chandos have captured it in thrilling sound.

– MusicWeb International (John Quinn)
Works on This Recording
1. Glagolitic Mass by Leos Janácek
Performer: Thomas Trotter (Organ), Sara Jakubiak (Soprano), Susan Bickley (Mezzo Soprano), Gábor Bretz (Bass), Stuart Skelton (Tenor)
Conductor: Edward Gardner
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1926 ; Brno, Czech Republic
2. Adagio for Strings by Leos Janácek
Conductor: Edward Gardner
Orchestra/Ensemble: Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1891 ; Brno, Czech Republic
3. Zdrávas Maria by Leos Janácek
Performer: Sara Jakubiak (Soprano)
Conductor: Edward Gardner
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1904 ; Brno, Czech Republic
4. Our Father by Leos Janácek
Performer: Stuart Skelton (Tenor)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1901/1906 ; Brno, Czech Republic
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