Janáček Taras Bulba
Taras Bulba brings together Janácek’s love of Russian literature and his ability to turn the most unlikely subject matter into music of astonishing power. Somehow Janácˇek manages to transform the story of the death of Taras Bulba’s sons, Andrij and Ostap, and the patriarch’s own agonising end into a cathartic and visionary masterpiece. Completed in 1918, this three-movement orchestral rhapsody marks the start of the remarkable flowering that produced four operatic masterpieces, the Sinfonietta and much else besides. Antoni Wit is certainly alive to the connections between Taras and the late operas, notably The Cunning Little Vixen. He is aided by some extremely fine wind and brass playing from the Warsaw Philharmonic. Notwithstanding a slightly over-expansive ending and a somewhat close recorded ambience, this is an estimable performance.
The two sets of dances, based on Moravian and Lachian folk models and melodies, come from relatively early in Janácˇek’s career. Occasionally, they veer toward Dvoπák’s Slavonic Dances, but in general, they have a craggy individuality. Wit’s performance is idiomatic and the orchestral playing is both rhythmically responsive and attractively colourful.