About this Recording
NBD0026 - JANACEK, L.: Glagolitic Mass / Sinfonietta (Libor, Marciniec, Bentch, Gierlach, Malanowicz, Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, Wit) (Blu-Ray Audio)
English 

Leoš Janáček (1854–1928)
Glagolitic Mass • Sinfonietta

 

The two works featured on this disc represent Janáček’s mature musical language at its most communicative, products of a final decade when, following the triumphant Prague première of his opera Jenůfa in 1916 and the emergence of a fully independent Czechoslovakian state two years later, he embarked on a succession of operatic and instrumental masterpieces sure in the knowledge of his domestic standing as well as a burgeoning international reputation. That such works appeared so rapidly also denotes his confidence in an idiom which, defined with great effort over the previous decades, was both wholly personal and unequivocally of its time.

The Glagolitic Mass has its origins in an unfinished Mass setting of 1907/8, though little of that is discernible in the present work, which pointedly eschews the Latin text in favour of the Old Church Slavonic devised in ninth century Moravia by missionaries Cyril and Methodius, and whose distinctive script gives the piece its title. Composed between October and December 1926, it was revised the following May and duly went into rehearsal that September, when the composer made numerous and sometimes far-reaching changes that toned down its often startling modernity. That ‘original’ version has latterly been reconstructed and performed, but the present recording is of the more familiar revision which received its successful première by the Brno Arts Society conducted by Jaroslav Kvapil in Brno on 5 December 1927 and which, despite some qualms as to Janáček’s unorthodox religious stance, has established itself as a unique contribution to the choral repertoire.

Úvod (Introduction) centres on an eloquent trumpet theme that is heard against undulating strings. Its twin appearances surround more inward interludes featuring solo woodwind, between which the theme alternates between brass and woodwind. Its second full appearance brings about a defiant though provisional close.

Gospodi pomiluj (Kyrie) opens with sombre gestures on the lower strings, soon continued more reflectively by woodwind, which presently coalesce into an imploring theme for the chorus. Solo soprano now contributes an increasingly fervent solo, heard against a choral backdrop which latterly threatens to overwhelm it, before shuddering strings and timpani mark a sudden return to the initial gestures prior to a regretful choral farewell.

Slava (Gloria) commences with chiming chords in upper woodwind and strings, against which the soprano unfolds a rapturous melody. The mood gradually becomes more animated as the chorus enters, with the latter intensifying as the strings accelerate towards a powerful statement from brass and timpani. The soprano continues in alternation with strings and woodwind, the chorus urging the music on to an imposing fanfare with timpani and organ to the fore. This in turn elicits a fervent response from the tenor, one whose increasingly hectic alternation with the chorus brings about a joyous outburst on the word ‘Amen’ and an energetic conclusion.

Vĕruju (Credo), the longest and also most complex movement, begins with a striding motion on lower strings and a guarded response from the chorus. The solo tenor excitedly intervenes in company with muted trumpet, continuing with a relatively extended solo against imploring strings. The chorus is now heard against clarinets then strings, before the initial motion provokes a curt response from the strings. An orchestral interlude now follows, at first pensively on clarinets and lower strings, but soon building to an energetic response from trumpets and upper strings, at the apex of which the organ enters with a virtuosic solo across the keyboards which is curtailed by the sudden entry of chorus and an aggressive brass response. Chorus and orchestra now engage in heated exchanges towards a brief yet thunderous brass outburst, calming for a final return to the opening music which itself slows into the apotheosis, a paean of praise for tenor then baritone and chorus, decked out with brass fanfares and ecstatic strings as another ‘Amen’ brings about the unequivocal ending.

Svet (Sanctus) commences with gently undulating figures in upper strings and woodwind, against which the solo violin unfolds a serene melody. The seraphic mood then intensifies with entries from each of the soloists in turn, alternating with chorus which soon takes over as the pace increases to a vigorous motion on brass and strings. At length this quietens and the soloists exchange quizzical responses, the chorus re-entering as the music rapidly regains its momentum and, at the urging of the tenor, is propelled on to a glowing conclusion.

Agneče Božij (Agnus Dei) begins uncertainly with a sombre idea alternating between strings and woodwind. The chorus declaims the main two words three times, each more fervently than the last, then the process is twice repeated with the orchestral sections growing shorter and the choral response more intense. A central section brings the work’s most extended writing for the vocal quartet, but its attempt at affirmation is undercut by a return to the initial idea then a final imploring choral response prior to the quietly expectant close.

Postludium takes the form of an extended and highly virtuosic fantasia for solo organ, drawing on the main ideas from the preceding movement in what soon becomes a heated alternation between stark chordal wring and hectic passagework that deploys the instrument’s array of resources on its way to a thunderous ending.

Intrada immediately sets off as scurrying strings similarly alternate with bounding brass and timpani, heading towards a driving apotheosis that brings the whole work full circle in the most decisive and affirmative terms.

If the Glagolitic Mass gives vent to Janáček’s often professed pan-Slavism, then the Sinfonietta is an avowed statement of belief in the Czechoslovak nation. Its origin came through the composer’s hearing a military band in the town of Písek at the outset of 1926, soon after which he was commissioned to write some fanfares for the opening of the Sokol Gymnastic Festival and responded with an initial version of what became the present work’s initial movement. The piece as it then evolved was initially titled ‘Military Sinfonietta’ and dedicated to the Czech army, but this title had been altered by the time of the première by Václav Talich in Prague on 26 June 1926. Indeed, central to its conception were Janáček’s responses to the buildings in Brno alluded to in the subheadings of the latter four movements: buildings which he had known from adolescence but whose more affirmative qualities he had only come to realise in the years following Czech independence.

Despite its relative brevity, the Sinfonietta is scored for one of the largest orchestras Janáček was to use, expanded in the opening movement and the second half of the finale by the deployment of an additional nine trumpets, two bass trumpets and two tenor tubas. The initial motif heard on the tubas provides the basis for the whole of the first movement as well as most of what follows, making this the most overtly symphonic and integrated among the composer’s larger orchestral pieces. It was also among the earliest of Janáček’s works to establish his reputation in Western Europe, not least through the advocacy of the late Sir Charles Mackerras.

Allegretto (Fanfare) builds from antiphonal responses over a slowly revolving rhythm, via rhythmically more animated exchanges, to a powerful brass outpouring which ‘circulates’ several times before its sudden close.

Andante (The Castle) commences with glancing gestures from woodwind and brass, soon leading into a lively theme for upper woodwind then strings which is complemented by a more pensive theme, itself subjected to a constantly changing accompaniment. Tension now increases as the music gains in ardour, the upper strings pushed to the extremes of their compass on the way to a resplendent brass climax with trumpets to the fore. This climax is repeated even more ecstatically, the trumpets at length dying down over suspended strings prior to a restrained and atmospheric coda for solo woodwind and harp which is brusquely rounded off.

Moderato (The Queens Monastery) begins with languorous gestures from strings and harp over sombre brass, presently becoming the backdrop to an eloquent melody for cor anglais then oboe. Mused on by strings and woodwind, it merges into a sombre passage for brass then strings, topped off by shrill woodwind as the music takes on a dance-like gait. This soon gains a dizzying momentum on brass and strings, again countered by woodwind, before subsiding into a serene recollection of the opening music on solo woodwind and strings.

Allegretto (The Street Leading to the Castle) is the shortest movement and centres on an impetuous trumpet theme, underpinned by lower strings, that presently passes all around the orchestra with its rhythmic profile unchanged but its accompaniment in a constant state of flux. Finally returning to trumpet, there is a moment of calm before the theme strikes out in new directions, only to be forestalled by a curt orchestral response.

Andante con moto (The Town Hall) commences with poetic gestures on woodwind against undulating strings, the latter gaining in intensity as the music moves into expressive woodwind writing over simmering lower strings. The latter briefly continue this alone, but an increase in tempo finds both upper woodwind and strings racing away towards a heated confrontation at the extremes of their registers. This surges on to an emphatic response from trumpets, which duly sets in motion a full reprise of the opening movement on brass and timpani though now with an excited underpinning from woodwind and strings. This time, moreover, the music heads into a sequence of cadential chords on full orchestra that provides the most unequivocal of conclusions.


Richard Whitehouse


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