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Janáček: Glagolitic Mass; Sinfonietta

Malin Byström (soprano), Jennifer Johnston (mezzo-soprano) et al; Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno; Strasbourg Philharmonic Orchestra/Marko Letonja (Warner Classics)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Janáček
Glagolitic Mass; Sinfonietta
Malin Byström (soprano), Jennifer Johnston (mezzo-soprano), Ladislav Elgr (tenor), Adam Plachetka (baritone), Johann Vexo (organ); Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno; Strasbourg Philharmonic Orchestra/Marko Letonja
Warner Classics 9029628063   64:15 mins

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Opera dominated Janáček’s astonishing final decade, but two large-scale masterpieces, one orchestral, the other choral, hold secure places in the repertoire. The Sinfonietta comprises four movements celebrating the beauties of the Moravian capital Brno bookended by exuberant fanfares originally intended for a gymnastic display. Marko Letonja adopts a brisk tempo for the opening, and the brass playing is supremely confident if a little lacking in character. The subsequent movements, however, are well paced and more arresting dramatically. If not the last interpretative word, this beautifully played reading has much to commend it.

The Glagolitic Mass shares the Sinfonietta’s infectious physicality. In pursuit of a different approach to the familiar Mass, Janáček used Old Church Slavonic for his text; as important is his pantheistic vision of a work redolent of the open-air where the candles are stars shining on the tops of fir trees. It can be one of the most intoxicating choral experiences of the 20th century, but unfortunately this performance of the first version of 1927 is rather mixed. Soloists and chorus are superb, but the orchestral playing is often a touch tentative. Overall this is a missed opportunity to showcase the craggy splendours of Janáček’s original conception.

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Jan Smaczny