JANÁČEK Glagolitic Mass. Adagio. Zdrávas Maria. Otčenáš
When I interviewed Edward Gardner in 2014, he expressed regret that he’d not had the opportunity to conduct any Janáček while at the helm of English National Opera. Janáček was very much the preserve of Sir Charles Mackerras. Gardner is now making up for lost time with his Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra. This is the third volume in Chandos’s excellent series of Janáček’s orchestral works (an odd description given that the main items here are choral), including a crackling account of the Glagolitic Mass.
Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass has been incredibly fortunate on disc, making it tough for newcomers to make an impression. Recent entrants include the fine Prague recording from Tomáš Netopil of the ‘September 1927’ version prepared by Jiří Zahrádka, slightly different from Paul Wingfield’s original version as set down by Mackerras. Gardner opts for the more familiar – and tamer – revised version. Janáček scholar John Tyrrell’s booklet argument for favouring this edition is that – unlike his operas Jenůfa and From the House of the Dead – Janáček undertook the revision himself, sitting in on rehearsals, and was confident in what he was doing.
The Bergen Philharmonic play splendidly and Chandos rewards them with a satisfyingly full sound. From the Introduction, ones notes the Bergen strings, warm and sweetly Viennese in flavour. Growling double basses launch the Gospodi (Kyrie), where woodwinds are sensitively balanced.
Gardner’s brisk pacing of the Slava (Gloria) is joyful, bustling strings punctuated by urgent timpani. He is aided by the urgent soprano of Sara Jakubiak and the thrilling, heroic tone of Stuart Skelton. When Thomas Trotter bursts in on the organ during the Credo, it makes a tremendous impact, as do the foundation-shattering pedal notes in the crazed solo that constitutes the penultimate movement. The Bergen Philharmonic Choir sing the Old Slavonic texts fervently.
Like Netopil, Gardner takes the Svet (Sanctus) swiftly, the delicate, high string-playing most touching. Timps and brass bring unbuttoned, Sinfonietta-like joy to the Intrada, rounding off a superb performance. I wouldn’t be without the more elemental Karel Ančerl (DG) or Rafael Kubelík’s joyous recording (featuring the sublime soprano Evelyn Lear), but Gardner is fit to join them.
The disc contains some valuable makeweights, including a Czech Ave Maria. The Adagio for orchestra, thought to have been an extra overture for his opera Šárka, is a mournful, sombre work. A 15-minute setting of the Lord’s Prayer, Otčenáš, was composed to raise funds for the Brno Women’s Shelter. Janáček, a non-believer, was inspired by paintings by the Polish artist Józef Męcina-Krzesz illustrating the words of the prayer. It’s a beautiful little score in five ‘panels’, scored for harp and organ. Stuart Skelton copes with the high tessitura of the tenor solos, the Bergen Cathedral Choir singing with warmth and sensitivity.