Janacek: Violin Concerto, Jealousy… / Ehnes, Gardner
The remaining three works, Blaník, The Fiddler's Child and Taras Bulba, well over half the disc, are fully the work of the composer. If one ignored all this and just listened one would probably remain unaware that anything was not purely the work of this remarkable early twentieth century genius.
The disc opens with Jealousy and one is immediately aware of the very best Chandos surround sound and of music being performed by an orchestra of the utmost virtuosity in the very best, colourful Eastern European style. The woodwinds shrill, the brass cuts through the texture, the timpani hammer out rhythmic patterns, the strings manage both to sing and shout as required. These are Janá?ek performances of the very finest. It is quite astonishing that this sound comes from a Norwegian orchestra based among the fjords of north-western Scandinavia and directed by the British conductor Edward Gardner. I could really stop there because the rest of the programme is at least as good. However, a few more details. James Ehnes produces the most lovely clean and pure sound in the beautiful Violin Concerto, which, linked as it is to the wonderful prelude of The House of the Dead, is both passionate and soulful, covering much emotional ground in its short 12 minutes. The Ballad of Blaník is a dramatic eight minutes describing the transformation of a band of knight's weapons of war into farm implements. It's derived from a nineteenth century pacifist poem — a tale well suited to Janá?ek's deeply humane beliefs. The Fiddler's Child depicts a scenario involving the ghostly kidnapping of a child's soul. This provides the composer with multiple opportunities for operatic writing sans voices. In his unfinished symphony The Danube he actually introduces a single voice singing without words, the soprano becoming another instrument in his orchestra. This work is perhaps more interesting than satisfying, but it is worth hearing. Finally on the disc is his great masterpiece Taras Bulba, a three movement epic symphonic poem on a bloodthirsty tale of death and revenge. It uses not only a large orchestra but also the organ, employed to earthshaking effect especially at the very end. Those with a sub-woofer in their system will be glad they bought it. It is interesting to note that the impressive Grieghallen organ is not a pipe organ but is in fact an electronic instrument built to the hall's specification by UK organ builder Copeman Hart and installed in 2005, a fact omitted from the otherwise thorough booklet notes.
– Dave Billinge, MusicWeb International
Catalog Number: CHSA 5156
Composer: Leoš Janáček
Conductor: Edward Gardner
Orchestra/Ensemble: Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
Performer: James Ehnes, Melina Mandozzi, Susanna Andersson