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Leos Janácek: Glagolitic Mass (final version) – Sinfonietta
Christine Libor (Soprano), Ewa Marciniec (Alto), Timothy Bentch (Tenor), Wojciech Gierlach (Bass), Jaroslaw Malanowicz (Organ), Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir, Antoni Wit (Conductor)
Recorded at Warsaw Philharmonic Hall (26-27 April, 2010 & 29-30 September, 2009) – 63’
Naxos #8.572639 – Booklet with essays and translations in English

Janácek’s Glagolitic Mass has been well-served on disc, and Antoni Wit’s Warsaw forces have well-served many composers in the past, so it is a bit surprising that this recording wasn’t more enjoyable. Right from the opening theme by the trumpet, there is a softness to this recording that seems antithetical to the music. It is an effect of both the recorded sound quality and the performance itself. Phrases are ill-defined and transitions are un-dramatic. There is very little that is gripping or organically vibrant in this rendition. Unfortunately, the entire affair just sounds unmotivated.

On the bright side the soloists acquit themselves quite well. Tenor Timothy Bentch, in particular, who is often pushed to his limits, brings a fresh and bright reading full of drama to his performance. The piece is probably too heavy for his fach, but it is an enjoyable reading nonetheless. Likewise, soprano Christiane Libor does an admirable job. Her large soprano is never unwieldy, but robust and authoritative. Unfortunately, their contributions don’t outweigh those of the orchestra, which is the main culprit here.

Right from the beginning, there is a lack of transparency that is absolutely critical in this music. It has more to do with articulation and artistic impetus than any kind of technical deficiency. The overall effect is somewhat apathetic, which is unfair, as the Warsaw Philharmonic Choir and soloists have the text on their side and give a spirited performance. Still, the sum of the parts of this Glagolitic Mass is uninspiring, and sadly lacking a compelling argument as to the validity and brilliance of this wonderful work.

In general, the sound quality disserves the recording and the music. While balances are impressively captured, it is hard for this music to make a dramatic impact when the sound is curiously distant. Perhaps this is due to the number and scope of performers, but it is not enjoyable and serves to mask what little bite is heard from the orchestra. I reviewed the standard CD version of this recording, but there is also a Blu-Ray version.

Curiously, the concluding Sinfonietta is a much better contribution to the whole of this disc. Recorded at an earlier time, the brass clearly enjoys its spirited opening “Allegretto” movement with some virtuosic playing. Phrases in the “Andante” have clearer direction and more dynamism than almost anything portrayed in the Glagolitic Mass. Despite the size of the orchestra, they are capable of an enjoyable intimacy in the quieter sections. Most importantly, there is a hint of a palpable empathy between the players and music here. It is a refreshing conclusion to the disc, but unfortunately, not enough to redeem it. With similarly priced alternative performances that are considered reference recordings of this work, most listeners should head in that direction.

Matthew Richard Martinez




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