Janacek: Sárka

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Janacek
LABELS: Multisonic
WORKS: Sárka
PERFORMER: Alena Nováková, Antonín Jurecka, Frantisek Kunc, Josef VálkaBrno RSO & Chorus/Bretislav Bakala
CATALOGUE NO: 31 0154-2 AAD mono
It’s strange to reflect that for all Katya Kabanova’s status as a classic of 20th-century opera, this issue of the work is only the third available in the catalogue at present. Its competitors are a Glyndebourne Festival video with Andrew Davis conducting, and Charles Mackerras’s mould-breaking performance with the Vienna Philharmonic.

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Mackerras’s recording is likely to remain a standard recommendation with its mixture of insight and scholarship, not to mention the inclusion of more extended orchestral interludes added by the composerin 1927.

But Krombholc and his cast offer a great deal. The recording was made in 1960 and shows the soloists, chorus and orchestra of the Prague National Theatre in stronger heart than they are today. Krombholc could be a marvellous conductor and many of his finest qualities are in evidence here: flexibility, clarity and a strong sense of drama among them.

In many ways I find his soloists preferable to those fielded by Decca’s recording with Mackerras. Drahomíra Tikalová’s Katya sounds younger and more fragile than Elisabeth Söderström’s, and Beno Blachut’s tone as Boris is, to my mind, far more appealing than Peter Dvorsky’s Italianate bleat. Ludmila Komancová’s Kabanicha does not have the venom of Nadezda Kníplová’s, but she is subtler and more manipulative.

Though old, and at times a touch boxy, the recording is more than serviceable. Krombholc does not offer the textual authenticity of Mackerras, but no lover of Janácek should be without this performance.

Nor should they miss the premiere recording of the composer’s first opera, Sárka, mined from the archives of Czechoslovak Radio by the enterprising Multisonic company. Janácek felt the work was close to his mature style (he revised it twice in later years) and there are numerous pre-echoes of his better known operas.

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The pace is a little on the breathless side and the lyricism in short supply, but there is enormous confidence in the writing and many characteristic touches. This splendid performance and recording, coming up surprisingly well after 40 years, is a real treasure trove. Jan Smaczny