The campaign to get Janáček accepted as a major 20th-century composer was one that was worth fighting. It is shocking to think that, 50 years ago, his music was only starting to make headway in the west and his operas had to be championed by the faithful few.
Czech performers, though, have an honourable record. Collectors may be familiar with the first-rate Janáček recordings that kept emerging from beyond the Iron Curtain in the postwar years and that native tradition has been maintained recently, not least by the late Jirî Bělohlávek, a noted Janáček conductor.
The live recordings on this all-Janáček set (two discs, though only lasting 100 minutes) date from the period 2013-17. The main work is the Glagolitic Mass, one of his most fearsomely individual creations, quite unlike anybody else’s setting, and there are also performances of his two main orchestral scores, the Sinfonietta and Taras Bulba, together with the rarely played The Fiddler’s Child.
The Czech Philharmonic has this music in its blood and plays with cultured warmth as well as lively accuracy. One would expect nothing less of the orchestra that gave the premieres of two of the works here, The Fiddler’s Child and the Sinfonietta.
Bělohlávek’s own contributions are more mixed. He brings a hallowed sense of mystery to some parts of the Glagolitic Mass, but little of the wild restlessness that energises the music under conductors such as Charles Mackerras and Simon Rattle. The Fiddler’s Child casts a ghostly atmosphere, but the savagery of Taras Bulba and the blazing affirmation of the Sinfonietta, the latter recorded only a few months before Bělohlávek died, are underplayed. Still, an hour or two spent in Janáček’s company can only ever lift one’s spirits.
‘Glagolitic Mass’ is released by Decca
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