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5.0 out of 5 stars An unusual coupling that proves to be a rewarding concert experience, 30 July 2013
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I. Giles (Argyll, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This unusual coupling was recorded at Lucerne in 2012 and received appreciative audience applause for both items. The recording itself is wide ranging as befits the Janacek especially and is presented in DTS 5.1 as well as stereo. The sound is also clearly defined and has good stage presence. The camera work is crisp and detailed without becoming either invasive or hyper-active. The sleeve notes supplied with this disc are particularly informative and helpful.

The Brahms symphony is given a warmly affectionate performance founded on secure bass lines above which the orchestral textures are able to expand convincingly. Jansons keeps the pace on the move without actually becoming dramatically driven. There is a slight tendency, characteristic of Jansons and observed over many of his recordings, to ease back at climatic moments presumably in order to maximise the tonal effects. However, this type of emphasis is inevitably at the expense of some loss of dramatic pace and attendant dramatic impact. The description of 'warmly affectionate' is therefore more appropriate to this approach to music making. The overall effect is one that is musically satisfying rather than emotionally thrilling. This is not to suggest that there is anything amiss in this interpretation rather than to suggest a musical approach which is totally successful on its own terms. The fine Bavarian orchestra delivers everything that Jansons asks of it.

The Janacek mass inhabits quite another world of experience and has little in common with the emotional or musical world of Brahms which is why it is such an unusual concert coupling. The piece was written late in life when Janacek was about 70 years of age. It shares the same period of time as the Sinfonietta and that love of the brass fanfares that start and end the Sinfonietta can readily be heard here. The Bavarian brass do well at these points.

So far as the text and the compositional intention of the piece is concerned it needs to be understood that this is primarily a nationalist statement rather than a religious one. It was written shortly after Czechoslovakia was created and just after the National Democratic Party began collaborating with the Communists. This caused Janacek to leave the Democratic Party, to consider dedicating the work to the Czech army and to declare 'I wanted to portray the nation's faith not on a religious basis but on a strong moral one which calls God to witness.' Consequently he chose as his text the ancient 'Glagolitic' language of the Old Church Slavonic.

The result, as a composition, is a work that implies anger and of demand rather than penitence or supplication. This performance, with its quartet of Slovak-Russians to underline the Eastern European nature of the piece, is very successful in all of these ways. The choir, singing in what must be an unfamiliar language for most, is as effectively sympathetic and technically secure as the soloists. The extensive organ part is also delivered with convincing ferocity and accomplishment. The orchestra delivers well on all counts and the quality and clarity of the recording is of great help here. Also of great help is the provision of optional sub-titles. Jansons handles these elements with greater drive than that to be found in the Brahms symphony which may have something to do with his Latvian origins. There is no equivalent example of holding back to underline climatic points.

I would suggest that this unusual concert is a fine achievement in total. The Janacek is an unusual concert choice and is well done. The Brahms symphony is also rewarding in its warm hearted manner. The recording is excellent so if the concert coupling is of particular interest to potential purchasers I would suggest that this may well be worth investing in.
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