Janacek: Glagolitic Mass; Taras Bulba

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Janacek
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Glagolitic Mass; Taras Bulba
PERFORMER: Evelyn Lear (soprano), Hilde Rössel-Majdan (alto), Ernst Haefliger (tenor), Franz Crass (bass), BedrŠich JanácŠek (organ); Bavarian RSO & Chorus/Rafael Kubelik
CATALOGUE NO: 459 360-2 ADD Reissue (1965, 1971)
There are few more life-enhancing 20th-century choral works than Janácek’s Glagolitic Mass; the composer’s enthusiasm for nature and profound humanity inform every bar. Owing to a recent reconstruction of what seems to have been Janácek’s original intentions (including three sets of pedal timpani in the Credo) the Mass can now be performed in two versions. Both of these recordings are of the familiar edition of the work. Chailly goes for breadth in a performance which at first seems oddly at variance with Janácek’s bracing vision; the introduction is lethargic with some spongy orchestral ensemble and later his soprano, Eva Urbanová, sounds uncharacteristically constricted. Things improve with some committed choral singing and some fine instrumental detail. The Sanctus and final Intrada are effectively celebratory and the sacred works by Zemlinsky and Korngold as makeweights are a fascinating bonus, but this is far from a sure-fire recommendation.

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We’re on much safer ground with Kubelík’s extremely attractive 1965 recording. The orchestral playing is not as polished as the Vienna Philharmonic for Chailly nor, unsurprisingly, is the sound as three-dimensional, but Kubelík has strong sense of line and his understanding of the expressive force of the work is much more convincing.

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For those who want the ‘original’ version of the Mass, Mackerras on Chandos is a must; for the familiar text, Neumann’s recording with the Czech Philharmonic and the soprano Gabriela BenŠacková in radiant voice is well worth having. Jan Smaczny