A brassy beginning to Chandos’s complete survey of Janáček’s Orchestral Works, this first volume of it opens with the fanfares of the Sinfonietta (1926), that late and remarkable flowering in this composer’s catalogue. Edward Gardner initially seizes this compact five-movement masterpiece by the throat, thrillingly so, but occasionally, across the whole work, there can be some sagginess, and if it becomes a bit wearing through occasional forced intensity, and also given the slightly bright sound, there are numerous lyrical asides to relish as well as the suggestion of panoramic vistas being created. I would query the (unnecessary) crudeness of the cymbal clashes in the second movement, mention (in passing) the slight blip in the final die-away of the third, and praise some very expressive, precise and detailed playing from the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, not least the fearless trumpeters who are put through their paces.
Without eclipsing versions by Ančerl (Supraphon), Kempe (BBC Legends, save the channels are unfortunately reversed) and Kubelík (Deutsche Grammophon), Gardner has certainly mined the score with individuality as well as obvious affection both for Janáček’s inimitable inventions and also his interjections; texturally the use of tubular bells rather than glockenspiel in the fourth movement is a blessing. The return of brass and hard-stick timpani, to round things off, once again moved along apace by Gardner, is certainly uplifting.
The quirky Capriccio (also 1926) – for piano, with the unlikely ensemble of flute (doubling piccolo), two trumpets, three trombones and tuba – enjoys delicious side-steps, much unpredictability and a seemingly whimsical engagement with form; in other words Janáček is totally his own man, the music as acerbic as it is inviting, as searching as it is tongue-in-cheek, and as rhythmically complex as it is appetisingly melodious (try dislodging the tuba tune that opens the third movement, played here with a flourish and enviable poise by Hans Andreas Kjølberg). Advanced and modern Capriccio certainly is but also with a story-telling side that is vividly played-up here, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet and his busy left-hand, all that he requires, painting pictures while his Bergen colleagues become theatrical personages.
The Suite from The Cunning Little Vixen, begun by Talich and expanded and corrected by Mackerras, is full of fantasy and incident – an impulse in which every note tells a story – as well as expressing very real human emotions that are shared with and against the animals of the forest. As it can be argued that the orchestra is the central character (or at least illuminates every other one in no uncertain terms), it deserves a foxy Suite all of its own, one that captures the dizzying action – active, potent, lilting and finally frivolous – and the pathos of this eventful and most-touching of operas. This glowing and revealing music is done proud in this present recording.