Top 10 Janáček recordings

Gramophone Fri 18th March 2016

In any gathering of the finest recordings of Janáček's music, one particular conductor's name is always going to loom large...

Glagolitic Mass

Sols; Czech Philharmonic Orchestra / Charles Mackerras

(Supraphon)

'It is a measure of the respect in which Sir Charles Mackerras is held in Czechoslovakia that this recording should have been possible. The compliment is no less than his due, for no man has done more to win acceptance in this country for Janáček as one of the great composers of the twentieth century...' Read the review

 

The Excursions of Mr Brouček

Sols; BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Orchestra / Jiří Bělohlávek

(Deutsche Grammophon)

'What a lovable work this is. The first excursion in particular is packed with vivid invention; the second dips deeper into wells of Czech history. It all needs the sharp hand and light touch with the agile rhythms which Bělohlávek brings to it...' Read the review  

 

Kát'á Kabanová

Sols; Vienna State Opera Chorus, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra / Charles Mackerras

(Decca)

'Sir Charles's superlative performance hardly needs further recommendation; nor does the wonderfully moving interpretation of the title-role by Elisabeth Soderstrom establishing by an infinity of subtle touches and discreet, sensitive singing the picture of Kát'á as the richest and most human character in the drama...' Read the review

 

String Quartet No, 2, 'Intimate Letters'

Pavel Haas Quartet

(Supraphon)

'Try the third movement at 2'58" where, having fined the texture down to a whisper, Janáček gives the first violin an electrifying outburst; if that contrast has been made more emotionally real on record it is certainly not so on the half-dozen LPs and CDs I picked off my shelves. The very fine recent Talich Quartet version (Calliope, 6/06) does not even run the Pavel Haas Quartet close. I would almost be inclined to recommend the new disc for this moment alone...' Read the review

 

Jenůfa

Sols; Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra / Charles Mackerras

(Decca)

'Söderström phrases Janáček's soaring melodic lines with a full understanding of their Romantic passion without ever allowing them to loosen into sentimentality; she has a sharp appreciation of the cut of his often difficult rhythms; her voice is flexible in expression, ranging from a sorrowful warmth in the scenes over the loss of the baby to a pride of utterance in the confrontations with Steva and a moving dignity in the closing reconciliation with the Kostelnicka...' Read the review

 

The Cunning Little Vixen

Sols; Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra / Charles Mackerras

(Decca)

'Mackerras keeps a tight rein on the score, right up to the end. It is a remarkably unsentimental work, however touching and moving, especially when one considers the dangers of putting animal weddings and so forth on the stage. Mackerras never lingers over anything, in true Janáček style, violently though he can discharge the bursts of emotion, shock or satire that explode throughout the score...' Read the review

 

Sonata 1.X.1905, 'From the Street'

Karim Said pf

(Opus Arte)

'Janáček’s Sonata 1.X.1905, a response to the death of a 20-year-old worker in a demonstration, is wonderfully well played, with Said creating a palpable mood of desolation in the spare Adagio second movement (‘Death’) before its impassioned climax...' Read the review

 

From the House of the Dead

Sols; Vienna State Opera Chorus, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra / Charles Mackerras

(Decca)

'From the House of the Dead (the 1980 Gramophone Record of the Year) was here recorded for the first time in its proper, original version; and this, the fruit of brilliant musicological work by Dr John Tyrrell, revealed it as even more of a masterpiece – a work, indeed, to count among the handful of masterpieces produced by 20th-century opera...' Read the review

 

Sinfonietta. Taras Bulba

Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra / Tomáš Netopil

(Supraphon)

'A superb programme – and not only because it represents, in effect, a useful gathering of Janáček’s mature orchestral oeuvre. The substantially gifted Tomáš Netopil has the full measure of all four works, balancing the Sinfonietta’s closing build-up so that the reappearance of the fanfare trumpets (the Band of the Castle Guards and Police of the Czech Republic) is allowed to achieve an effective climax rather than hogging the limelight prematurely. The excitable brass that dominates the Moderato third movement is very well captured and elsewhere there’s a combination of alertness, poetic phrasing and clear musical thinking...' Read the review

 

The Makropulos Case

Sung in English (translation by Norman Tucker)

Sols; ENO Chorus and Orchestra / Charles Mackerras

(Chandos)

'This is Mackerras’s second recording. The first, in 1979, in his series of groundbreaking Janáček recordings for Decca, had the Vienna Philharmonic in radiant form accompanied a fine cast singing in Czech. It says much for the quality of the ENO Orchestra that for this new version in English the playing is equally polished, and often outshines that of the Viennese in its extra dramatic bite...' Read the review

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