Janacek: Little Vixen suite (arr. Jílek)

COMPOSERS: Janacek
LABELS: Tudor
ALBUM TITLE: Janácek
WORKS: Little Vixen suite (arr. Jílek)
PERFORMER: Bamberg Symphony/Jonathan Nott
CATALOGUE NO: 7135
Much as I enjoyed this disc, it made me cautious, because I found the sheer freshness, clarity and detailed openness of the SACD sound was affecting my view of the actual performances. This Sinfonietta is just about the most lyrical I can remember, even more so than Abbado’s sleek Berlin Phil version (on DG, now deleted), and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Nott is admirably lively, intense and detailed, but Janá?ek’s spiky, astringent edge, brought out so memorably by Mackerras, is somewhat blunted here; nor does he conjure up the drama of Kubelík’s old recording. The swaggering ostinato Sokol fanfare at the opening, originally written for military brass at patriotic gymnastic displays, sounds mellow rather than flamboyant; and its restatement in the concluding Allegretto even more so, almost reflective. The usually edgy Moderato is positively serene.

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Partly responsible is the excellent but characteristically Germanic Bamberg orchestra, its string sound much weightier than the Czech tradition – also significant in an extraordinarily un-harrowing Taras Bulba. The love story of Taras’ traitorous son, Andrij, is lushly Straussian, and in ‘Ostap’s Death’ even the torture scene sounds gorgeous. Least successful, surprisingly, is the Vixen suite, where lyricism should predominate, but this is largely because it’s Franti?ek Jílek’s early and less coherent rendering, rather than Vaclav Talich’s.

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This disc wouldn’t be my first choice, but the Sinfonietta in particular offers a fine alternative, especially for those put off by Janá?ek’s spikier embodiments – and for the stunning SACD sound. Michael Scott Rohan