Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
|Franz [Vienna] Schubert, Leos Janacek, Kurt Masur|
Schubert: Symphony No. 8; Janácek: Glagolitic Mass
Listen to Samples
A Luminous 'Glagolitic Mass'
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 09/18/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I've only ever owned one recording of Leos Janácek's 'Glagolitic Mass', the one by Karel Ancerl and the Czech Philharmonic (no longer easily available), with Czech soloists and chorus. It completely satisfied me from a musical perspective and I never sought out another recording. But it has been getting long in the tooth -- recorded, if I'm not mistaken, in the 1960s -- and so when this new one came along I figured 'why not?', and I must say I am not disappointed.
Strangely, I had never read much, if anything, about Janácek or about the Mass. In Gavin Plumley's excellent notes for this recording he makes the point that Janácek was skeptical about religion, perhaps because he had spent so much of his youth in residence as a chorister in an Augustinian monastery. He is quoted as saying organized religion was 'concentrated death. Tombs under the floor, bones on the altar, pictures full of torture and dying ... death and nothing but death.' Certainly in his personal life he distanced himself from religion, never went to church, according to his wife, or prayed or paid attention to the religious education of his children. I had not known this about Janácek, but I had perceived much of this from repeated hearings of the 'Glagolitic Mass'. Although its Old Church Slavonic text is translated literally from the Catholic mass and thus professes deep Christian faith, it is alternately querulous, angry or tortured in its musical language. Just listen to the longest movement of the Mass, the Credo (Veruju, in Slavonic). It clearly is not the musical representation of deeply held faith.
But the Mass is a glorious piece of music qua music, dramatic, tender, questioning, musing, militant in turn. Granted the tenor and soprano parts are torturous, written as they are in the topmost range of both those soloists and their choral counterparts. But perhaps that, too, is a reflection of Janácek's feelings about faith; at times the soloists seem to be struggling. (I must hasten to add that, like the roast swan in Orff's Carmina Burana or the protagonist of Prokofiev's 'The Nose', they are meant to sound that way, and the present soloists -- Zdena Kloubová and Pavol Breslik -- do a marvelous job of singing their parts. Furthermore, in his operas Janácek tends to push the higher-voiced soloists to stratospheric heights.) The orchestral writing is brilliant and this recording brings this out gorgeously. Particularly fine is the sound of the important timpani part and the outrageous (and outraged) organ solos, the latter played brilliantly by David Goode on the organ in the Royal Albert Hall. And the frequent brass fanfare figures are played excitingly by the London Philharmonic's brass section. This is a live recording of a Proms concert that took place on July 28, 2004. The chorus, brought over from Brno -- Janácek's home -- is excellent. Although there are relatively few performances of the 'Glagolitic Mass' outside Slavic countries, largely because of the language, this chorus, the Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno, obviously has this music in their blood. (There is, by the way, an English singing translation of the Slavonic text but it is feeble in comparison to the original. Janácek's ability to fit his musical pulse precisely to the accents of his native Czech and the similar Church Slavonic makes it difficult to make a workable translation into other languages.)
I warmly recommend this version. The sound is particularly good and so is the performance.
Included in this concert is also a fine performance of Schubert's 'Unfinished' Symphony, the No. 8. It does not supersede any other performance I know, but it is a mainstream, richly played recording, also in good sound. It is unlikely anyone will be buying this CD primarily for the Schubert, though, since there are a jillion other good 'Unfinished' recordings out there. No, it's the Glagolitic Mass that is the draw, and it is worth having.