Janácek The Cunning Little Vixen

Author: 
John Warrack
Janácek The Cunning Little VixenJanácek The Cunning Little Vixen

JANÁČEK The Cunning Little Vixen

  • (The) Cunning Little Vixen
  • (The) Cunning Little Vixen

Janáček's woodland comedy has had two very successful Supraphon recordings before, under Vaclav Neumann and under Bohumil Gregor; but the new version, in what has already become a classic series of Janáček opera recordings under Sir Charles Mackerras, overtakes them in a number of ways, 

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. The animals' wedding chorus bounds with energy, the Dog Fox's wooing of the Vixen crackles with tension, and this continues under the men's discussions of love in the inn; yet it is typical of the work, and Mackerras's handling of it, that at the dreadful moment of the Vixen's death the seven bare fourths sounded softly on clarinets and celesta before the curtain falls should seem so bleak and laconic. Life is over, simply. The fanfares introducing the Forester's final soliloquy burst with renewed vitality, and it is of a piece with this reading that the whole of this wonderful final scene should remain sharp and understated. 

The orchestra rather dominates the voice here. Dalibor Jedlicka (graduating from Priest and Badger in the Gregor recording) has to struggle a little as the Forester, and he does not efface memories of Zdenek Kroupa (Gregor) nor of the great Rudolf Asmus (Neumann). Nevertheless, he sings soundly and with a shrewd understanding of the part; he is particularly good at the start, and in the arguments with a very well characterized group of men in the inn scenes. They mostly double with animal roles, as is suggested in the nature of the work, and this works well when the characters are so sharply drawn. And it is a pleasure to catch a glimpse of Beno Blachut, now approaching his seventieth year, in the tiny role of the Innkeeper Pasek. 

The women include Eva Randova in the role of Fox; it is not easy to bring off this travesti role, but Randova's hesitant, delicately gauche and then naively proud performance is delightful. And to cast Lucia Popp as the Vixen was a stroke of genius, obvious in retrospect. Born and bred in Bratislava, she has the language as her native tongue; and her lively soubrette sparkle, exactly right for the Vixen's more vixenish behaviour, can, as one knows from other contexts, also release great warmth and grace of line. This is enchanting: no wonder she haunts everyone's imagination, Janáček's orchestration, always individual, is here at its most detailed and intricate in the woodland scenes. Decca have given sharp attention to these effects, and to the matter of placing the voices within them. On the whole, they are extremely successful and only occasionally does a voice seem indistinct. Nevertheless, in its absence of trickery, and for its warmth and depth with no loss of detail, this is an excellent reflection of a marvellous score. 

There is a new translation of the text by Deryck Viney, much livelier than the somewhat prim and stilted version used in the earlier sets-indeed, rather livelier than the original at times. The Forester now describes his condition on the morning after his wedding as "right knackered", and when the little frog jumps on his face he calls it a "potvora studena", in the earlier versions "such icy monster" but here "clammy little bugger". Quibble: Terynka should not be translated as Theresa. Finally, there is the best account of the work yet published, in a long essay by John Tyrrell as scholarly as it is critically penetrating and humanly sympathetic.

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