JANÁCEK: Orchestral suites from The Makropulos Affair and The Cunning Little Vixen; Prelude to From the House of the Dead; Jealousy.
Czech State Philharmonic of Brno/José Serebrier, cond.
Reference Recordings RR-75 (F) (DDD) TT: 59:40  

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This is not a "new" release (it was recorded in July 1996), but it is the second installment in a Janácek series by Serebrier and his impressive Brno-based orchestra that one hopes will multiply in the years to come.

To allay any confusion that Jealousy might cause, it is the "original prelude" to the composer's breakthrough opera, Jenufa, by which time he was well into middle age. The "symphonic synthesis" that Serebrier has made from The Makropulos Affair -- an eerie, mostly parlando opera from 1923-25 based on Karel Capek's play, about a singer who has lived for three centuries and is tiring of it -- doesn't change any of the original orchestration. It is 31 minutes of vivid music that I prefer experiencing in the opera house (or as an orchestral tour-de-force, such as here) rather than having to listen to it in its vocal entirety on discs or radio.

The suite from The Cunning Little Vixen, Janácek's fanciful opera about forest creatures, is the work of conductor Vacláv Talich, retouched by Vacláv Smetacek, and departs considerably from the original scoring, albeit charmingly as well as briefly.

The composer didn't live to complete From the House of the Dead, based on Dostoyevsky's memoir of Siberian imprisonment, and the text used until recently was the posthumous work of Osvald Chlubna and Bretislav Bakala. Circa 1960, however, it was edited by Rafael Kubelik, whose version Sir Charles Mackerras edited in turn, and recorded for London, based on scoring the composer completed before his death in 1928. Reference Recordings doesn't say which version of the Prelude is played here, but the performance sounds bleakly beautiful, as befits the subject.

Recording engineer Keith Johnson captures especially luxuriant and powerful sound in Stadion Hall at Brno. Except that 20 minutes more of music could have fit on what is a premium price CD, it outclasses Frantisek Jílek with the Czech Philharmonic on Supraphon/Denon, who shares some of the same material.

R. D.