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on 25 July 2013
This is a collection of pretty much all of Janacek's mature purely orchestral works, the two main items being Sinfonietta and Taras Bulba. Sinfonietta is a summation of Janacek's art in instrumental terms and the product of his remarkable indian summer as a composer. This music is at the same time remarkably modern for a composer born in the 1850's, yet timeless at heart. Both exhilerating and tender, nothing quite like it had been written before or since.
There have been numerous distinguished recordings of both Sinfonietta and Taras Bulba, conducted by the likes of Ancerl, Kubelik, Mackerras, and so on, so this new recording is up against tough competition. To my mind, it's the best of a very fine bunch; not only are the conductor's interpretations of all four scores absolutely spot on, but the orchestral playing is of the very highest quality, and (this is the clincher, particularly in Sinfonietta) the recording is crystal-clear yet beautifully atmospheric - one hears all sorts of inner detail only hinted at in other recordings, but there's no sense of the sound being overly clinical. The recording producer and engineer are both to be heartily congratulated on such an achievement.
With well-written and interesting booklet notes, this is altogether a demonstration-quality issue in all respects and, for this reviewer at least, it ticks all the boxes and is most unlikely to be bettered - a collection of performances which are likely to become the benchmarks for these works.
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on 22 May 2013
NOTE: J.Scott Morrison's review refers to a DIFFERENT RECORDING than the one being sold here! His review is dated 3 years before Netopil's recording was even made.

Tomás Netopil recorded this wonderful orchestral music of Leos Janáček with The Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra in June 2012, at The Rudolfinium in Prague (known as "The House of the Artists" during the Soviet occupation). The Rudolfinium is the home of The superb Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and I think it is a shame that the Czech Philharmonic was not chosen instead. The Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra SOUNDS like a much smaller ensemble than the Czech Philharmonic. The PRSO actually has about 110 members (+ soloists) compared to the CPO's 123 members (+ soloists); so in reality, there's not much of a difference in size at all. The PRSO seem to lack the precision of ensemble needed and fail to produce the biting sarcasm & drama of Janáček's music; instead they produce a mellow, chamber-music-like performance for Netopil. THIS 1961 recording: Karel Ancerl Gold Edition Vol.24. Janácek - Sinfonietta; Martinu - The Parables demonstrates clearly the superiority of the CPO when under the direction of the legendary Karel Ančerl. 52 years later, it is still the definitive recording of Sinfonietta that others are measured by (Listen to the MP3 samples). THIS 1970 recording by the great Czech conductor, the late Rafael Kubelik & the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra: Sinfonietta / Taras Bulba / Concertino is, in my opinion, equally as good; it also includes the must-have "Taras Bulba" whereas the Ancerl recording does not.

Having attended a Czech Philharmonic Orchestra concert at the Rudolfinium on 13th April 2012, I witnessed first-hand the sheer enthusiasm, energy & precision of these top-rank musicians. I DO wish that I was listening to them instead, especially if conducted by their Chief Conductor, Jiří Bělohlávek. The CPO would surely have been a better choice of orchestra as they have exactly the qualities needed for Janáček's music. I do wonder though, if the PRSO had been conducted by their experienced & highly regarded chief conductor, 70 year old Ondrej Lenárd, would they have performed better than under the relatively young and inexperienced 37 years old newcomer, Netopil? Let's hope that the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra come back fighting & demonstrate that they really ARE (nearly) as good as the illustrious Czech Philharmonic!

The choice of music on the CD is excellent, but the recorded sound quality is poor; everything sounds indistinct & lacking the impact expected in an up-to-date recording. Listeners will also have to turn their volume controls up considerably higher than usual as playback levels are extremely low. I am shocked and very disappointed that Supraphon have let themselves and customers down so badly; what went wrong? They should have discarded this recording; not released it at full price. I have quite a few Supraphon CDs and they are ALL superb, EXCEPT for this one. There is the danger that if someone buys this CD as their first Supraphon purchase, it will deter them from buying any more and deflect them away from listening to any more music of Janáček too.

The choice of actual music is excellent, especially as it is all very approachable & tuneful; a good selection for newcomers to Janáček. Indeed, many newcomers will immediately recognise the fourth movement of "Sinfonietta" as being the opening theme tune for the 1972 - 1984 British television series "CROWN COURT" (probably taken from the 1970 Kubelik performance). THIS 1998 recording: Apex: Janacek Orchestral Works is a much better performance and recording of EXACTLY THE SAME MUSIC as Netopil's CD for half the price (the CD is presently £6.98 and the MP3s are presently just £2.59); much more what Janáček should sound like! You can listen to the MP3 samples before buying.

If you primarily want Janáček's two most famous pieces, Sinfonietta & Taras Bulba (with the Concertino as a bonus); DO buy the Rafael Kubelik/Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra recording (linked above) and you can't possibly go wrong. I have alternately played Kubelik's & Netopil's recordings over & over again, back-to-back in the last couple of days. That has just reinforced my judgement on how poor this new CD is & how truly great Kubelik's recording is.

Let's hope that Supraphon or another company, get Jiří Bělohlávek & the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra to record this same Janáček orchestral music some time soon (their Chandos "Sinfonietta" recording is 23 years old). THAT should kick some life into the floundering PRSO. This disastrous CD should quickly be withdrawn from sale and only be re-released if it is successfully remastered & then sold at a budget price.

People always seem to mark down negative reviews, preferring to believe the "positive" ones; don't they want to know the truth? I have no axe to grind, no-one is paying me to write this review & I have no vested interest in the success or failure of this recording. Neither do I work for a music magazine or radio broadcaster that earns money promoting, advertising or selling music CDs. Mine is an honest, considered, opinion from a music lover who expects much, much better than this for their hard earned money. Be warned, buy this CD at your own peril.
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This disc contains some of the most original music of the twentieth century. It is not atonal, it is not mathematically complex, elliptical, or difficult to 'get'. But its sound world is unique and unmistakably by the Moravian master. We tend to think of Janácek as a composer of operas, but he wrote some marvelous music for orchestra alone. Perhaps foremost among those works is his magnificent 'Sinfonietta'. The benchmark recordings of the work are those conducted by Vaclav Talich, who indeed premièred the work in 1926, and by Charles Mackerras, whose affinity for Janácek's music is well-known. But this recording by Jonathan Nott and his Bamberg Orchestra does not need to hang its head. It has the right amount of grittiness, a hallmark of Janácek's music, and forward thrust. Just listen to the opening fanfares. Particularly in SACD, the sound will rock your world without being vulgar or unduly brash. It is, as was Janácek's intent, disciplined, orderly, and menacing. Nott conveys the work's sense of danger with just the right amount of tension. It does not annoy, as some versions do, but creates the frisson that the music is designed to elicit. It perhaps helps to remember that Janácek originally called the work 'Military Sinfonietta'. The airy relief of the third movement allows one a moment to breathe before being thrust back into the militarism of the fourth movement and the hesitance, anticipation and final fanfares of the finale. This is a performance that can count itself among the best on record.

'Taras Bulba', derived from the Gogol short story about a Ukrainian Cossack and his two sons who join the fight for independence from Poland, was Janácek's first major orchestral work and dates from 1918. The first section depicts one son, André's, love for a Polish girl that causes him to become a traitor and leads to his death. The second section, The Death of Ostap (the other son), is an example of Janácek's obsessive use of marcato violin ostinatos, in this case a six-note theme used as the main feature of a grim mazurka. The finale describes Taras Bulba's moral victory and his death. This performance by Nott and the Bambergers feels a little flat to me when compared to Kubelik's classic (but aging) recording or Mackerras's more recent recording with the Czech Philharmonic.

The final piece here is a 16-minute suite taken from Janácek's opera, 'The Cunning Little Vixen'. This is not the more familiar suite devised by Talich, but one made by Frantisek Jílek. Music is taken from all three acts of the opera, but no attempt is made to outline its plot. Rather it focuses on the opera's nature-music as well as some of the love music. It reminds one how much superb orchestral music is contained in Janácek's operas.

I would have given this CD five stars except for the slight disappointment in the performance of 'Taras Bulba'. But there is an outstanding 'Sinfonietta' and a more than satisfying Jílek-arranged 'Vixen' suite, valuable also for its being different from the more easily available Talich suite.

Scott Morrison
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