LEOS JANACEK: Glagolitic Mass (Missa Solemnis) (Orig. Version); Taras Bulba – Rhapsody for Orchestra – Radio Sym. Orch./ Mark Janowski; Soloists/Radio Choir Berlin (in Mass) – PentaTone multichannel SACD, PTC 5186 388, 64:53 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
This new version of one of the finest Janacek liturgical works is only up against one other SACD which is not as good. Glagolitic refers to Slavic culture in general, which the composer celebrated in many of his works. The text is in Old Church Slavonic corresponding to the Catholic Ordinary of the Mass for the most part. This original version has nine parts ranging from only about 1½ minutes to 12 ½ minutes for the Credo section. Probably the strongest competition comes from one of Michael Tilson Thomas’ best recordings, his 1990 version with the London Symphony and Chorus on a Sony Classical CD. That one has 11 sections. Janowski follows the frequent practice of repeating the Mass’s Intrada movement at the beginning of the work to serve as an introduction.
There is also the 1965 version on a DGG reissue conducted by Rafael Kubelik, with Evelyn Lear as the soprano. It is a bit more hard-edged and primitive-sounding than the MTT version, but its sonics now sound a bit dated next to the Sony 20-bit recording and its better capture of the acoustics of the performing space. The three-minute pipe organ solo, which comes just before the final Intrada section, sets this mass apart from all others, and provides a unique ending to this unique work. Organist Iveta Apkalna cuts loose on this track on the PentaTone SACD, and the quartet of vocal soloists are fine thruout.
There are also the three sections of Taras Bulba: The Death of Andrei, The Death of Ostap, and The Prophecy and Death of Taras Bulba. You’d think with such material this would be a rather funerial-sounding suite, but that is not the case. This is some of Janacek’s most colorful music, in the Rimsky-Korsakov style, although he was influenced by the use of Russian folk music by Tchaikovsky. It was based on a novel by Gogol describing the greatness of the Russian people in times of war. (Seems like we’ve heard that in some other works too.) The particular war in the novel was between the Cossacks and Poles in 1628.