Janáček: Orchestral Works Vol. 2

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LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Orchestral Works, Vol. 2: Jealousy; Violin Concerto ‘The wandering of a little soul’; The Ballad of Blaník; The Fiddler’s Child; The Danube; Taras Bulba
PERFORMER: Susanna Andersson (soprano), James Ehnes, Melina Mandozzi (violin); Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Edward Gardner

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The best-known work in this second instalment of Janáček’s orchestral music is the Russophile rhapsody, Taras Bulba; alongside it are the two programmatic symphonic poems, The Fiddler’s Child and The Ballad of Blaník, and Jealousy, the original passionately volatile overture to Jenufa, abandoned before the premiere. There are also two substantial and tantalising torsos: the mysterious Violin Concerto subtitled ‘The wandering of a little soul’, later transformed into the overture to the opera From the House of the Dead; and the Danube Symphony, four movements that foundered in the face of more major projects during Janáček’s last years.

The performance of the Violin Concerto is remarkable: beautifully shaped by both soloist and conductor with a captivatingly operatic sense of timing. Even in this skilful completion and orchestration by various hands, the Danube is meandering and at times unconvincing. But the performers make the best of it, revelling in the closeness to the sound world of The Cunning Little Vixen and in the breezy woodwind solos and soprano vocalise of the third movement.

Blaník and The Fiddler’s Child are both engaging, but the performance of Taras Bulba is one of the most impressive available on CD. The opening is electrifying and all three movements are superbly well paced and much enhanced by the vivid recording. The cathartic climax of the third movement is overwhelming and avoids any sense of bombast. Oddly enough, the first minute or so of Jealousy is a little tentative, but it soon develops impetus worthy of the remainder of these magnificent performances.

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Jan Smaczny