Five landmark recordings from Sir Charles Mackerras

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A potted guide to the Australian conductor's legacy

From Handel to Janáček, Mozart to Sullivan, the late Sir Charles Mackerras has left an incomparable legacy of recordings. Czech music was his passion – Janáček in particular – and from the 1950s on he championed the Czech composer's then relatively unknown operas. Mackerras was also acclaimed for his fresh approach to Mozart, as well as for being a pioneer of period performance. We take a look at five of his landmark recordings…

 

Handel: Music for the Royal Fireworks
Pro Arte Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra
Testament SBT 1253

Recorded with 62 wind players and nine percussionists in 1959, this was the historic first attempt by Mackerras to record the Royal Fireworks Music with the forces Handel wrote for. Even by today’s standards the sound is spectacular.

 

 

Janáček: The Cunning Little Vixen
Lucia Popp, Dalibor Jedlicka; Vienna PO
Decca 475 8670

The first recording to make use of Janáček’s original score, and with a superlative cast headed by Lucia Popp in the title role, this brings out both the opera’s sense of magic and the poignant warmth of its innocent love music.

 

Mozart: Symphonies Nos 38-41
Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Linn CKD 308

One of Mackerras’s greatest triumphs was to demonstrate that it is still possible to give fresh and revelatory performances of even such familiar works as Mozart’s late symphonies; this won BBC Music Magazine’s 2009 Disc of the Year.

 

 

Martinů: The Greek Passion
John Tomlinson, Helen Field; Brno State Philharmonic Orchestra
Supraphon 1036112

This 1981 recording was largely based on the Welsh National Opera’s landmark production, the opera's first UK staging, conducted by Mackerras. The cast, headed by bass John Tomlinson and soprano Helen Field, are here joined by authentic Czech forces.

 

 

Dvořák: Symphonic Poems
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Supraphon SU 40122

One of Charles Mackerras’s last recordings, it is testimony to his expertise on Czech music that the Czech label Supraphon asked him to record Dvořák’s complete Symphonic Poems to celebrate his long association with the label.

 

Related links:
Charles Mackerras (1925-2010)
BBC Music Magazine Awards 2009: Disc of the Year winner
CD Review: Mackerras conducts Sullivan's Pineapple Poll