Proms 2004 – Janáček & Martinů

0 of 5 stars

Hukvaldy Songs
Otčenáš [Our Father]
The Frescoes of Piero della Francesca
Double Concerto for two string orchestras, piano and timpani

BBC Symphony Orchestra
Sir Andrew Davis [Frescoes]

Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno
Petr Fiala [Hukvaldy]

Thomas Walker (tenor), Sioned Williams (harp), Thomas Trotter (organ)
BBC Symphony Chorus
Stephen Jackson [Our Father]

Marcel Javorček (piano) & Ivan Hoznedr (timpani)
Prague Philharmonia
Jiří Bělohlávek [Double Concerto]

All recorded in 2004 in the Royal Albert Hall, London, during that year’s BBC Proms season

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: September 2005
2564 61951-2
Duration: 65 minutes

This thoroughly rewarding and well-planned disc is culled from four concerts given during Proms 2004, a Czech-related season. Martinů’s Frescoes and Double Concerto make a distinctive coupling – and the inclusion of Janáček’s “Hukvaldy Songs” and his extraordinary setting of “Our Father” add greatly to the release’s attractions.

The first item, the Frescoes, is conducted by Sir Andrew Davis. A recording of a 1998 concert performance with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Jiří Bělohlávek, a master of this repertoire, already exists, but on comparison it is obvious that Davis is preferable. In part this is due to a better-balanced recording which has good bass definition and a fine glow to it. However, Davis catches the music’s soaring lyricism and radiates a conviction lacking in Bělohlávek ‘s less-impassioned performance.

Even more remarkable is the Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno’s account of Janáček’s six “Hukvaldy Songs”, Hukvaldy being the composer’s home village for which he clearly felt a deep well of affection. These brief a cappella settings disappeared from public view shortly after their premiere in 1899 and were only rediscovered amongst the papers of Janáček’s brother-in-law in 1944. Here they receive a performance spontaneous and natural; choral singing at its finest.

Janáček’s setting of “Our Father” is fervent and unconventional, rarely performed, and with a hint of the concluding movement of Fauré’s Requiem. It is finely performed by the BBC Symphony Chorus with Thomas Walker an impassioned tenor soloist. However, compared to the supremely idiomatic singing of the Brno chorus, the BBC forces have a linguistic disadvantage and they are recorded with much less immediacy.

Martinů’s Double Concerto is another of those angst-ridden late-1930s’ works overshadowed by approaching world conflict. Dedicated to Paul Sacher, it received its first performance in Basle in 1940, and is one of the undisputed masterpieces of 20th-century string literature. With the Prague Philharmonia under Bělohlávek, it receives a totally idiomatic performance, if one a little under-nourished in string tone, but with exemplary balances and a notably fine contribution from pianist Marcel Javorček. At the time of its premiere the members of the Basle Chamber Orchestra objected to rehearsing this extraordinarily taxing work. Sacher is reported to have said: “Gentlemen, you do not seem to realise that you have before you a masterpiece.”

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