JANACEK: Orch. Music Vol. 1 – Sinfonietta; Capriccio; The Cunning Little Vixen – The Bergen Philharmonic/ Edward Gardener – Jean Efflam Bavouzet, p. – Chandos

JANACEK: Orchestral Music Vol. 1 – Sinfonietta; Capriccio; The Cunning Little Vixen – The Bergen Philharmonic/ Edward Gardener – Jean Efflam Bavouzet, p. – Chandos multichannel SACD CHSA 5142 64:05 (10/28/14) [Distr. by Naxos]

This new disc from Chandos features three pieces from Janácek’s late period. They were written during a time when the composer had passionate feelings for Kamila Stösslová, thirty-seven years his junior, and his emotions inspired an extraordinary output of his creative genius.

The disc opens with the justly famous Sinfonietta, an exuberant and brazen piece which can test the precision of any orchestra. It’s played wonderfully by the Bergen Philharmonic, and I found the interpretation quite fresh and exciting.

Scored unusually for left-hand piano and an ensemble of brass and flute, the Capriccio is remarkable even among Janácek’s distinctive late works., In the composer’s words: ‘whimsical, all willfulness and witticisms’. Jean-Efflam Bavouzet gives a fine performance that is powerful and emotional. Finally, the disc ends with The Cunning Little Vixen, Janácek’s opera from 1923, which was not universally well-received at first. 
 
A number of its orchestral interludes, however, were quite popular, and after Janácek’s death in 1928 Václav Talich, a leading Czech conductor, extracted an orchestral suite, re-orchestrated by two young colleagues. Recently Sir Charles Mackerras restored Janácek’s striking original orchestration, the version we have on this SACD disc.

The review copy is an updated high resolution release of a CD first offered in 2014. The disc has a multichannel 5.0 mix. The rear channels are very subdued, but when you turn off the rears the orchestral image flattens slightly. The strings are beautifully recorded in a fairly ‘live’ room, and the overall impression is very realistic. I’m not hearing the deepest bass, especially in the Sinfonieta, which is the only negative of these excellent performances and recordings. The disc was recorded at the Grieghallen in Bergen, Norway.

As this disc is Volume 1, I’ll look forward to hearing subsequent volumes. Volume 2 has been recently released. Janácek is a superb composer who retains his popularity when many of his contemporaries have faded from the scene. I found the disc a worthwhile listen if the only selection was the Sinfonietta, which is wonderfully performed.

—Mel Martin

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