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Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Kačena Divoká (The wild duck) (1885) [3:16]
Holubička (The dove) [2:36]
Plačící fontána (The weeping fountain) [4:10]*
Elegie na smrt dcery olgy (Elegy on the death of my daughter Olga) (1903) [6:49]**
V mlhách (In the mists) (1912) [14:56]
Vlčí stopa (The wolf’s trail) (1916) [7:39]
Říkadla (Nursery rhymes) (1925-26) [15:46]***
Raquel Magalhães (flute)*; Romain Champion (tenor)**; Lise Berthaud (viola)***; Alain Planès (piano); Accentus/Pieter-Jelle de Boer
rec. January 2013, Salle Ravel, Levallois-Perret, France
NAÏVE V5330 [55:13]

This attractively programmed release brings us to some rarely explored byways of Janáček’s output. It presents the kind of music we should really know more about when truly appreciating his more familiar operas and orchestral works.
Vocal music was an essential part of Janáček’s musical life, and youthful pieces such as The Wild Duck show a sensitive affinity to choral writing and a treatment of language which would become one of his defining characteristics as a composer. It is with The Weeping Fountain in which we come across Janáček’s more mature style. As part of the Songs of Hradčany there is no mistaking those idiosyncratic little flute commentaries on the gentle vocal lines of the female chorus - itself quite a notable Janáček vocal combination and colour.
Janáček’s life was not without tragedy, and the Elegy on the death of my daughter Olga is both eloquent and tenderly expressive, setting Russian texts for which they both shared a love. A core of strength in this music is offset by heartrending dissonances and an emotional atmosphere of which Mahler would have been proud, all with that wound-up restraint which seems to reflect the composer’s barely hidden inner torments. Probably the best known piece here is the solo piano work In the Mists, given a hauntingly fine performance here by Alain Planès, though perhaps without quite the fervent inner life you can hear in it from someone like Rudolf Firkušný.
The piano continues in a significant role with The Wolf’s Trail, another tragic text performed with operatic weight by tenor Romain Champion. The programme concludes with the substantial cycle of Nursery Rhymes, a set of pieces which share characteristics with The Cunning Little Vixen and other later works which express a child-like world so effectively, though by no means in a naïve way.
Beautifully performed, the recording for this disc was made in a space perhaps just a tad small, but what the acoustic lacks in resonant blending of the sound it delivers in terms of clarity. I can’t entirely vouch for all of the pronunciation in the performances, but it all sounds pretty convincing and all of the texts are given in Czech, French and English in the booklet which has useful notes and biographies of all involved. This is a must for fans of Janáček, and also represents rich pickings for newcomers interested in unusual choral repertoire.
Dominy Clements