One of the most white-hot performances ever recorded
Donovan Olson | Regan, ND - near the center of North America | 04/23/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Karel Ancerl's recording of the Janacek Sinfonietta is perhaps the most passionate, blood-pounding, white-hot performance of any piece of music ever recorded. Recorded a couple of years before the Prague Spring and ensuing Soviet crackdown, this performance expresses all the nationalistic fervor Janacek put into it when he composed it during the early years of the newly founded Czech Republic. I first discovered this recording in the bargain bin issued on a small budget label, and even with the poor quality of the pressing, the intensity of the performace immediately drew me in. I upgraded to a copy of Supraphon imported release with much cleaner sound at the first opportunity. The recorded sound is very bright with almost an over-abundance of hall resonance. While there are many good recordings with more up-to-date recorded sound by McKerras, Neumann, Kubelik, Pesek and others, none of them comes close to matching the fire-breathing intensity of this recorded performance. The opening Sokol fanfare (for a brass and timpani ensemble including 9 trumpets) starts with a simple motif and quick shifts into overdrive with Janacek's characteristic rhythmic interjections from the trumpets, ending in a blaze of glory, all in the space of less than 3 minutes. The second movement pulses with energy from the first bar and never relents. Ancerl pushes the orchestra to give their all at every turn, to the point of almost crudeness - in the most highly charged sections, the strings squeal, the woodwinds shriek (listen to the cascading flute eruptions in the 3rd movement and the pleading clarinet solo in the last movement), the brass growl, and the percussion crackle like fireworks. In spite of the age of the recording, the piece sounds more modern in it's approach than the competing versions (for an extreme contrast, listen to Szell's lackluster reading). The ostinatos and fragmentary melodic ideas are juxtaposed against each other, without trying to homogenize the sound. The tempo changes dictated by the chimeral changes of mood in the piece are instantaneous, and when the tempo broadens in the final pages when the fanfare returns accompanied by trilling strings, it sounds as natural and organic as a river flowing into the sea. The penultimate tonal shift sounds totally unexpected every time I hear this recording, and will raise the hair on the back of your neck unlike anything you have ever heard. This is a must-have recording for anyone who can appreciate music performed with a no holds barred, take no prisoners, total commitment on the part of the performers.
(I am not familiar with the other recording on this release, but the Janacek alone is worth the price - listening to this recording of the Sinfonietta may be the most exciting 25 minutes you experience this year)."
What's All the Fuss About?
Music Is Everything | Colorado Springs, CO USA | 04/20/2009
(2 out of 5 stars)
"A handful of reviewers (including, surprisingly, David Hurwitz of ClassicsToday.com) gush like schoolgirls over this recording, but the actual experience falls way short. Janacek's Sinfonietta requires a powerhouse virtuoso orchestra, which the Czech Philharmonic isn't. The most striking music of the Sinfonietta--the opening brass fanfare and its fully-orchestrated version at the end of the piece--are hideously out of tune, with poor tone qualities to boot. Bad intonation and ensemble are the rule in this digital tragedy. While the disc benefits from the two lesser-known works by Martinu, it's still not worth the price. There are dozens of better recordings of the Janacek (like the Chicago Symphony with Ozawa and Vienna with Kubelik), so spare yourself the sore ears and buy elsewhere."