LEOS JANACEK: Sinfonietta for Orchestra; Taras Bulba (Rhapsody for Orchestra); Suite from the Opera “The Cunning Vixen” (arr. Jilek) – Bamberger Symphony/Jonathan Nott – Tudor

by | Sep 21, 2010 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

LEOS JANACEK: Sinfonietta for Orchestra; Taras Bulba (Rhapsody for Orchestra); Suite from the Opera “The Cunning Vixen” (arr. Jilek) – Bamberger Symphony/Jonathan Nott – Tudor multichannel SACD 7135, 61:42 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

This is a welcome collection of Janacek’s distinctive orchestral music. The Sinfonietta of 1926 is one of the Czech master’s best-known symphony works, written down in the space of three weeks. The scoring of its opening Fanfare is known for its unusual instrumentation – 11 trumpets, two tenor tubas and kettledrum. In fact, the entire orchestra doesn’t come all in until the fifth and final movement of the work. Each of the movements has its own unique orchestration and sound – a sort of Janacek sampler.

Taras Bulba was a leader of the Ukrainian Cossacks in the 17th century in their struggle for independence from the Poles. The richly Slavic work was inspired by a novella on the subject by Gogol.  In three movements, which I doubt are duplicated in any other rhapsody/tone poem/whatever – all three of them describe a different person’s execution! The first is Taras Bulba’s younger son who falls in love with the daughter of a Polish governor and becomes a traitor; Taras has his son killed. The second is Taras’ older son, who is caught by the Poles and executed while his father watches. The third is Taras himself, who as “the Prophet of the Slavs” was captured by the Poles in 1628 and burnt at the stake. Surprisingly, it’s not a morose work at all, but a very colorful Russian-style tone poem of strong Slavic character and considered an orchestral masterpiece.  It’s final movement is in fact quite celebratory and stirring – using pipe organ and church bells to join the orchestral climax symbolizing the Slavic hero’s moral victory over his enemies. Great in surround.

Janacek’s Cunning Little Vixen is a most unusual opera filled with lovely music. How many operas have as their main character a fox? There are at least two suites arranged from this opera score, and this one is by Frantisek Jilek.  Only 16 minutes long, it covers some of the opera’s main themes in a colorful fashion. Tudor – based in Zurich, Switzerland – has done its usual excellent multichannel sonics on this disc.  It carries a 2006 date – don’t know why we’re just now receiving it for review, but it warrants the attention of collectors whether a new release or not.

 — John Sunier

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