JANÁCEK: Glagolitic Mass. Adagio. Zdrávas Maria
(Hail Mary). Otce nás (The Lord's Prayer).
Dynamic conductor Andrés Orozco-Estrada became Music Director of the Houston Symphony in the 2014-2015 season. The Texas orchestra is one of America's oldest, founded in 1913 and over the years many distinguished conductors have been at the helm including Efrem Kurtz, Ferenc Fricsay, André´Previin, Sir John Barbirolli, Leopold Stokowski, Sergiu Comissiona and Christoph Eschenbach. Now we have the new conductor's first recording, a coupling of two Dvorák symphonies. Orozco-Estrada 's first Pentatone recording was a stunning Stravinsky SACD (Le sacre du printemps/Firebird suite) (REVIEW). This Dvorák issue finds him in a more reflective mood in Jesse H. Jones Hall for the Performing Arts in Houston April 2014 (Symphony No. 7) and March 2015. Two engineers were involved; both have provided a somewhat distant audio picture and with subdued brass—those horns in the finale of Symphony No. 8 should blaze out but here they do not. There are umpteen recordings of both of these symphonies; this new one, unfortunately, is not coimpetative.
The Hagen Quartet, founded in 1981 by four family members: Lukas, Angelika Veronika and Clemens. They perform on four famous Stradivarius instruments Current members of the quartet are Lukas, Veronica and Clemens. with Rainer Schmidt as second violinist. They have been hailed internationally and have made many recordings particularly for DGG, recording comprehensive sets of quartets of Beethoven and Mozart, along with Haydn, Schubert and contemporary composers as well. Now they are associated with Myrios and are re-recording some of their previous successes on SACD. The two Mozart quartets are elegantly played, and the recording made December 2014, produced by Stephan Cahen, captures their rich sound to perfection. The only negative feature here is the limited playing time—less than an hour. Easily another quartet could have been included.
About two years ago, this site mentioned a spectacular SACD of Janacek's Glagolitic Mass performed by soloists and chorus with the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Marek Janowski (REVIEW). Now we have another multi-channel version of this amazing work, with a sterling quartet of singers, superb chorus and orchestra conducted by Edward Gardner. The filler on the Janowski disk was the familiar symphonic poem Taras Bulba. This new version has much to offer as it includes three works that show a different side of the famed Czech composer. In total contrast to the drama and dissonance of the Mass, we have three gentle seldom-heard works. The solemn Adagio was written in 1890 possibly as alternate overture for his opera Sarka. It was a memorial for his two-year old son who died that year, a sad occasion reflected in the music.We then have two vocal/choral pieces. Hail Mary, scored for soprano (or tenor), four-part chorus, violin and organ (or piano) heard here with tenor Stewart Skelton. Then we have the five-part The Lord's Prayer, scored originally for tenor, four-part chorus, and piano, presented here in a revised version with the piano replaced by harp and organ. It is based on a series of paintings by Josef Mecina-Krzesc depicting Christ and adoring peasants. This also is an exquisite work, beautifully performed. Audio on this SACD is outstanding, not very "surround," but effective and wide-range, with a particularly robust organ sound. If you already have recordings of the famous Mass, you should investigate this fine issue as it gives us the opportunity to hear the three works mentioned above. Profuse program notes, texts and translations are provided.
R.E.B. (May 2016)