Edward Gardner directs Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass

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COMPOSERS: Leoš Janácek
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Glagolitic Mass; Otče náš; Zdrávas Maria*; Adagio
PERFORMER: Sara Jakubiak (soprano), Susan Bickley (mezzo-soprano), Stuart Skelton (tenor), Gábor Bretz (bass), Thomas Trotter (organ); David Stewart (violin)*, Kartsein Askeland (organ)*, Johnnes Wilk (harp); Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir, Bergen Cathedral Choir, Choir of Collegiûm Mûsicûm, Edvard Grieg Kor/Edward Gardner
CATALOGUE NO: Chandos CHSA 5165 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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Nothing about the music Janáček composed in his last decade is conventional: autobiographical string quartets, operas on subjects that fly in the face of reason yet succeed magnificently, and a setting of the mass that stands convention on its head. Incandescent, profoundly human and intoxicating in its celebration of the world of nature and the divine, Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass is demanding of performers and requires special treatment at every turn. Edward Gardner’s interpretation succeeds superbly by focusing on the life-affirming qualities of the work, rather than going in search of its more ceremonial aspects. The pleas of the Gospodi, pomiluj (Kyrie) have genuine urgency and the opening of the Slava (Gloria) is infectiously joyous. The chorus is rhythmically crisp and unfailingly responsive, most effectively in the dramatic twists and turns of the Veruju (Credo).

While the only exclusively orchestral work in this volume in a series of Janáček’s orchestral music is a short Adagio, the leading role the orchestra plays in the Glagolitic Mass surely justifies its inclusion. This recording is all the more welcome since it is based on an edition that includes changes made by Janáček after the standard version had been published. As with the chorus, the orchestral playing is superbly flexible in externalising the drama; I have never heard a more compelling performance of the turbulent orchestral interlude at the heart of the Veruju and the exultant conclusion of the movement sweeps all before it.

Gardner’s tempos are on the brisk side, but the sound is never congested and is aided by exemplary orchestral articulation, care for instrumental detail and some wonderful woodwind playing alongside the sharply focused choral contribution. There is also superb solo singing: Sara Jakubiak is radiant at the start of the Slava and throughout Stuart Skelton’s tenor is both resonant and dramatically compelling. Above all, the performers respond wholeheartedly to the unabashedly operatic way in which the piece communicates its religious message. With expressive organ solo playing from Thomas Trotter and a blisteringly joyous rendition of the Intrada, this excellently recorded performance stands very high among recordings of the Mass.

More modest but still fascinating are the remaining items: the setting of the Lord’s Prayer, designed to accompany staged tableaux vivants, is particularly delightful in its revised version with harp, and both the Hail Mary and orchestral Adagio have an open-hearted intensity.

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Jan Smaczny