JANACEK: Lachian Dances / Taras Bulba / Sinfonietta (Gunter Appenheimer/ Ondrej Lenard/ Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.550411)
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Leos Janaček (1854 -1928)
Janaček was born in 1854 in the northern part of Moravia, near thePolish frontier, a region that enjoys both linguistic and musical individuality.
He was educated at the Augustinian school in Brno, thecapital of Moravia, eventually succeeding to the position of organist that hadbeen occupied by his teacher. Between 1874 and 1875 he studied at the PragueOrgan School, where Dvorak had been a pupil sixteen years earlier, returning toBrno as conductor of the local Philharmonic Society. His lack of confidence inhis own ability as a composer took him to Leipzig in 1878 for a further year ofstudy, followed by similar activity in Vienna.
In 1881 Janaček opened amusic school in Brno, and in the following years continued to write music, in1886 dedicating a set of choral works to Dvorak, but in general enjoying only avery local reputation. His first opera, Sarka, met difficulties, sincepermission for the use of the poem on which it was basedhad not been granted by the author. Subsequent operas had a better fate, atleast in Brno, but it was not until 1916 that the attention of the PragueNational Theatre was drawn to his work, leading, largely by a series of luckychances, to the performance there of the opera known as Jenufa, that hadfirst been staged in Brno in 1904. The last twelve years of Janaček'slife brought him fame in Czechoslovakia and elicited from him a series of fivefurther operas, each as original in choice of libretto as in musical content.
The music of Janaček is dominated by his preoccupation with Moravianfolk-song, the spirit of which informs his work. Hehad a particular interest in the musical inflections of speech and the melodicshape of natural sounds, while his theories of harmony were original,particularly in his sudden shifts of key. As a composer he only started work inmiddle age and always appeared as a musician of startling originality, in partthrough geographical isolation, at a distance from Vienna and even from Prague.
Janaček's Lachian Dances
were originally to have been Valachian, but were transposed geographically bythe composer's own alternation of the title. Written in 1889 and 1890, the sixdances are scored for a large orchestra. The first, Starodavny, opens with amelody derived from tragic song "Matthew has been killed", with whichthe following melodies provide contrast. The nature of the dances that follow isapparent from their titles. For the composer, towards the end of his life, theyrecalled a past that had vanished and a countryside and way of life with whichhe had been familiar.
The Rhapsody Taras Bulba is based on Gogol. It was written in 1918.
Typically the composer chose a romantic historical novel by a Russian writer asthe frame-work for his creation. His interests were Pan-Slav, embracing theunity of the Slav peoples, and under similar impetus he had turned toOstrovsky's play The Storm for his opera Katya Kabanova and toDostoyevsky for his last opera, From the House of the Dead. His attemptto make an opera of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, with a Russian libretto ofhis own devising, remained unfinished.
For Taras Bulba Janačektakes three episodes in the violent life of the Cossack leader Taras Bulba inhis struggle against the Poles in 1682. In the first the son of Taras Bulba,Andri, is put to death by his father for the disloyalty that his love hasbrought about. The Cossacks had laid siege to the town ofDubno, where Andri's beloved is among those besieged. The young man enters thetown by a secret passage and joins with the Poles in the subsequent battle withhis own people. The second episode shows the death of his second son Ostap,tortured and put to death by the victorious Poles, an event witnessed by thedisguised Taras Bulba, mingling with the crowd. The third movement, with itsorgan part, depicts the prophecy and death of Taras Bulba himself, nailed to atree and condemned to be burned to death. As he dies, he foretells the futureliberation of the Cossacks.
The Sinfonietta was Janaček'slast orchestral work and was written in 1926. The original intention had been toprovide a series of fanfares for a gymnastic festival atBrno, the reason for the use of twelve trumpets employed in the work. At thesame time the composer had intended to salute the newly established independenceof Czechoslovak and then, finally, the liberation of Brno from unwelcome Germandomination. The five movements were given titles. Fanfare, The Castle, TheQueen's Monastery, The Street and The Town Hall, in this final tribute to thetown where he had spent most of his life. Nine trumpets announce the main themeof the first movement. The second movement is based on two themes, the first inthe manner of a Moravian folk song and the second in a less energetic rhythm. Amelancholy third movement is followed by a set of variations on a trumpet theme.
The work ends with a movement that allows the twelve trumpets finally to unitein a concluding fanfare.
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava)
The Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava), the oldest symphonicensemble in Slovakia, was founded in 1929. The orchestra's first conductor wasFrantisek Dyk and over the past sixty years it has worked under the batons ofseveral prominent Czech and Slovak conductors.
The orchestra has made many recordings for NAXOS ranging from the balletmusic of Tchaikovsky to more modern works by composers such as Copland, Britten& Prokofiev. For Marco Polo the orchestra has recorded works by Glazunov,Gli?¿re, Rubinstein and other post-romantic composers.
Ondrej Lenard was born in 1942 and had his early training in Bratislava,where, at the age of 17, he entered the Academy of Music and Drama, to studyunder Ludovit Rajter. His graduation concert in 1964 was given with the SlovakPhilharmonic Orchestra and during his two years of military service he conductedthe Army Orchestral Ensemble, later renewing an earlier connection with theSlovak National Opera, where he has continued to direct performances.
Lenard's work with the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra in Bratislava began in1970 and in 1977 he was appointed Principal Conductor. At the same time he hastravelled widely abroad in Europe, the Americas, the Soviet Union and elsewhereas a guest conductor, and during his two years, from 1984 to 1986, as GeneralMusic Director of the Slovak National Opera recorded for Opus operas by Puccini,Gounod, Suchon and Bellini.
For Naxos Lenard has recorded symphonies and ballet music by Tchaikovsky andworks by Glazunov, Johann Strauss II, Verdi and Rimsky-Korsakov. For Marco Polohe has recorded Havergal Brian's colossal Gothic symphony to great critical acclaim in the international music press.