About this Recording
8.550411 - JANACEK: Lachian Dances / Taras Bulba / Sinfonietta

Leoš Janáček (1854 -1928)
Lachian Dances
Taras Bulba

Janáček was born in 1854 in the northern part of Moravia, near the Polish frontier, a region that enjoys both linguistic and musical individuality. He was educated at the Augustinian school in Brno, the capital of Moravia, eventually succeeding to the position of organist that had been occupied by his teacher. Between 1874 and 1875 he studied at the Prague Organ School, where Dvorák had been a pupil sixteen years earlier, returning to Brno as conductor of the local Philharmonic Society. His lack of confidence in his own ability as a composer took him to Leipzig in 1878 for a further year of study, followed by similar activity in Vienna.

In 1881 Janáček opened a music school in Brno, and in the following years continued to write music, in 1886 dedicating a set of choral works to Dvorák, but in general enjoying only a very local reputation. His first opera, Sarka, met difficulties, since permission for the use of the poem on which it was based had not been granted by the author. Subsequent operas had a better fate, at least in Brno, but it was not until 1916 that the attention of the Prague National Theatre was drawn to his work, leading, largely by a series of lucky chances, to the performance there of the opera known as Jenufa, that had first been staged in Brno in 1904. The last twelve years of Janáček's life brought him fame in Czechoslovakia and elicited from him a series of five further operas, each as original in choice of libretto as in musical content.

The music of Janáček is dominated by his preoccupation with Moravian folk-song, the spirit of which informs his work. He had a particular interest in the musical inflections of speech and the melodic shape of natural sounds, while his theories of harmony were original, particularly in his sudden shifts of key. As a composer he only started work in middle age and always appeared as a musician of startling originality, in part through geographical isolation, at a distance from Vienna and even from Prague.

Janáček's Lachian Dances were originally to have been Valachian, but were transposed geographically by the composer's own alternation of the title. Written in 1889 and 1890, the six dances are scored for a large orchestra. The first, Starodavny, opens with a melody derived from tragic song "Matthew has been killed", with which the following melodies provide contrast. The nature of the dances that follow is apparent from their titles. For the composer, towards the end of his life, they recalled a past that had vanished and a countryside and way of life with which he had been familiar.

The Rhapsody Taras Bulba is based on Gogol. It was written in 1918. Typically the composer chose a romantic historical novel by a Russian writer as the frame-work for his creation. His interests were Pan-Slav, embracing the unity of the Slav peoples, and under similar impetus he had turned to Ostrovsky's play The Storm for his opera Katya Kabanova and to Dostoyevsky for his last opera, From the House of the Dead. His attempt to make an opera of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, with a Russian libretto of his own devising, remained unfinished.

For Taras Bulba Janáček takes three episodes in the violent life of the Cossack leader Taras Bulba in his struggle against the Poles in 1682. In the first the son of Taras Bulba, Andri, is put to death by his father for the disloyalty that his love has brought about. The Cossacks had laid siege to the town of Dubno, where Andri's beloved is among those besieged. The young man enters the town by a secret passage and joins with the Poles in the subsequent battle with his own people. The second episode shows the death of his second son Ostap, tortured and put to death by the victorious Poles, an event witnessed by the disguised Taras Bulba, mingling with the crowd. The third movement, with its organ part, depicts the prophecy and death of Taras Bulba himself, nailed to a tree and condemned to be burned to death. As he dies, he foretells the future liberation of the Cossacks.

The Sinfonietta was Janáček's last orchestral work and was written in 1926. The original intention had been to provide a series of fanfares for a gymnastic festival at Brno, the reason for the use of twelve trumpets employed in the work. At the same time the composer had intended to salute the newly established independence of Czechoslovak and then, finally, the liberation of Brno from unwelcome German domination. The five movements were given titles. Fanfare, The Castle, The Queen's Monastery, The Street and The Town Hall, in this final tribute to the town where he had spent most of his life. Nine trumpets announce the main theme of the first movement. The second movement is based on two themes, the first in the manner of a Moravian folk song and the second in a less energetic rhythm. A melancholy third movement is followed by a set of variations on a trumpet theme. The work ends with a movement that allows the twelve trumpets finally to unite in a concluding fanfare.

Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava)
The Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava), the oldest symphonic ensemble in Slovakia, was founded in 1929. The orchestra's first conductor was František Dyk and over the past sixty years it has worked under the batons of several prominent Czech and Slovak conductors.

The orchestra has made many recordings for NAXOS ranging from the ballet music of Tchaikovsky to more modern works by composers such as Copland, Britten & Prokofiev. For Marco Polo the orchestra has recorded works by Glazunov, Glière, Rubinstein and other post-romantic composers.

Ondrej Lenard
Ondrej Lenard was born in 1942 and had his early training in Bratislava, where, at the age of 17, he entered the Academy of Music and Drama, to study under Ludovit Rajter. His graduation concert in 1964 was given with the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra and during his two years of military service he conducted the Army Orchestral Ensemble, later renewing an earlier connection with the Slovak National Opera, where he has continued to direct performances.

Lenard's work with the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra in Bratislava began in 1970 and in 1977 he was appointed Principal Conductor. At the same time he has travelled widely abroad in Europe, the Americas, the Soviet Union and elsewhere as a guest conductor, and during his two years, from 1984 to 1986, as General Music Director of the Slovak National Opera recorded for Opus operas by Puccini, Gounod, Suchon and Bellini.

For Naxos Lenard has recorded symphonies and ballet music by Tchaikovsky and works by Glazunov, Johann Strauss II, Verdi and Rimsky-Korsakov. For Marco Polo he has recorded Havergal Brian's colossal Gothic symphony to great critical ac claim in the international music press.

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