JANÁČEK Sinfonietta. Taras Bulba
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, the sort that characterises performances of the same work by such past Czech masters as Karel Ančerl and Rafael Kubelík.
The highly descriptive Ballad of Blaník takes its theme from a volume of poetry based on a Czech legend about a small sleeping army who will come to the nation’s rescue in its hour of need, and The Fiddler’s Child mirrors the rather unsettling poetic world that Dvořák conjures in his late tone-poems (music that greatly influenced Janáček). I was also at times reminded of Joseph Suk’s Fantasy in G minor, Op 24, of some 10 years earlier. Although it plays for barely 13 minutes, this little-known masterpiece is a ‘rhapsody for violin and orchestra’ in all but name, though the use of four solo violas is a distinctive aspect of its scoring. The musical language is dramatic, primary-coloured and highly animated, with sudden interjections that are typical of Janáček‘s mature style. Violinist Petr Zdvihal plays superbly and Netopil again proves himself an accomplished and perceptive advocate of the music, as he does in Taras Bulba, especially in the bolder moments of ‘The Death of Andrei’ and the glorious crowning climax of ‘The Prophecy and Death of Taras Bulba’. Aside from Netopil’s skill on the rostrum and the first-rate playing of the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, there’s Supraphon’s engineering team, who manage vivid reportage of constantly varying textures that frequently defeat even their most accomplished rivals. You hear everything and yet not a single note obtrudes. An absolute winner.