Life With Czech Music - Janacek, Martinu / Charles Mackerras

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Also available: Life with Czech Music - Dvorák, Smetana / Sir Charles Mackerras


Contains 4 CDs + 1 DVD.


The Cunning Little Vixen, Sinfonietta, Taras Bulba

Charles Mackerras speaks of this set as his last series of Janácek recordings, which is understandable--but let's fervently hope that he hangs around to make many more discs for Supraphon (and other labels). Some of this material has appeared previously in the opera sets: the overtures and interludes to Kát'a Kabanová and Sárka. The rest of the items are new and wonderful. Most interesting for Janácek collectors may be this superb Suite from The Cunning Little Vixen that follows the outline of Talich's arrangement (that is, Act 1 minus the voices) but restores the composer's original orchestration. It's wonderful. Equally wonderful is the performance of Schluck und Jau, certainly its finest on disc, and the same holds true of the Jealousy Overture (a bit messy in the earlier Decca recording).

This performance of the Sinfonietta is thrilling: swifter than the somewhat staid Decca recordings and even more exciting than Mackerras' famous first effort with the Pro Arte Orchestra (now on Testament). He whips up the excitement at such points as the third movement's central climax with uninhibited abandon, and the Czech Philharmonic responds with explosive enthusiasm. The same qualities characterize the second two movements of Taras Bulba; the first is a touch relaxed, not as violent in the battle scene as some others I could name (Ancerl, for example), but it's never slack or self-consciously smooth. The recordings--both live and studio efforts from a variety of venues--sound consistently excellent. Mackerras did more for Janácek than any other conductor living or dead, and it's fitting that he should leave his final thoughts on this music with the Czech Philharmonic and Supraphon. A set not to be missed! [5/4/2004]

– David Hurwitz,

DVD - Jealousy, Taras Bulba, Glagolitic Mass
If the idea of watching a Mass on DVD doesn't seem all that inspiring, consider that the work in question is Janácek's powerful Glagolitic Mass. The already enthralling music gains a visceral intensity under Charles Mackerras' masterful and potent conducting. The visual element only heightens the drama, as we see the elegance of the beautifully adorned Dvorák Hall--a fitting setting for this ceremonial music. The cameras also capture the individual performers in their most important passages--Eva Urbanová's impassioned solos, Leo Marian Vodicka's fearsome tenor utterances, as well as Peter Mikuláš' stern bass proclamations. There are well-timed shots of the Prague Philharmonic Choir as well, and of course, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, which plays brilliantly. Organist Jan Hora, who gives a virtuoso performance of this all-important part, unfortunately is out of view (we see instead the pipes of his massive instrument). Mackerras, who uses Janácek's restored original score with its more colorful orchestration and raucous percussion parts, conducts vibrantly, with swift tempos making for a rousing occasion.

The Czech Philharmonic is the star of Jealousy (the original prelude to Jenufa) and Taras Bulba, and again it plays marvelously with virtuoso contributions from all sections. Now the camera pinpoints the many instrumental solos as well as individual orchestral sections in critical passages, indicating the video director's familiarity with the score. Mackerras' interpretations have been documented previously on audio-only recordings, perhaps most sumptuously with the Vienna Philharmonic on Decca. The sound on this video version is not so resplendent (it's not something you'd play with the TV off), but it suits the medium well, and it's quite fascinating to see the greatest living Janácek conductor at work. This is one DVD you'll watch many times. [9/13/2005]

– Victor Carr Jr,

Double Concerto, Les fresques
The Double Concerto and Les fresques are among Martinu's most satisfying works: behind the cosmopolitan, 'conservative-modern' lingua franca of their language both have a genuine individuality of Utterance, and both have an expressive urgency that repeated hearing intensifies. In the case of the Double Concerto the emotional burden is a brooding disquiet and a stoicism that eloquently reflect the time in which the work was written (1938: it was completed on the very day that the Allies agreed to Germany's annexation of the Sudetenland). In Les fresques there is a rapt, at times ecstatic luminosity, a mystic serenity, even, that is a strikingly apt metaphor for Piero's numinous brightness.

Not surprisingly, both pieces have been quite often recorded, but neither of them is at all easy to conduct or to balance. The proliferation of string lines in the Double Concerto can easily sound confused, and there is the problem of where in the sound picture the pianist should be placed: as a soloist, as continuo-player or as provider of edge and attack to the bass-line (the instrument appears in all three roles). The colours of Les fresques are still more easily dulled, shot and hatched as they so often are by solo instruments: the work demands a difficult combination of transparency and richness. Mackerras and his engineers succeed, so it seems to me, quite admirably in both cases. The tension of the Double Concerto's outer movements is finely sustained, there is great weight and intensity to the fuller pages, but enough power is kept in hand (the wide range of the recording plays a part in this) for the conclusion to be formidably powerful, and the excellent pianist seems always to be in the right perspective.

Les fresques are still finer, if anything: the solo lines characterfully expressive, the brighter colours resplendent, but the eloquent purity that is at the music's centre never obscured. [7/1985]

– Gramophone

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: SU4042-2

  • UPC: 099925404222

  • Label: Supraphon

  • Composer: Bohuslav Martinů, Leoš Janáček

  • Conductor: Sir Charles Mackerras

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Prague Philharmonic Chorus, Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra

  • Performer: Bernarda Fink, Drahomíra Drobková, Elisabeth Söderström, Eva Urbanová, Frantisek Livora, Jan Bouse, Josef Ruzicka, Kvetosjava Nemecková, Leo Marian Vodicka, Peter Mikulas, Richard Novák, Václav Zitek