Janáček: Orchestral Music

The years either side of the First World War were a time of renaissance for the Czech nation—and at the heart of this rebirth was the music of Leoš Janácek. The Fiddler’s Child, a ballad for solo violin (Elizabeth Layton in this exciting new recording) and orchestra, tells a harrowing tale of supernatural malfaisance as a parable for the struggles of a perennially oppressed nation.

Such a tone of double meaning is also to be found in The Eternal Gospel: overt religiosity becomes, for Janácek, an expression of the contemporary world’s need for reconciliation—the work received its premiere late in 1917. Similarly The Ballad of Blaník, dating from a couple of years later, adapts traditional folk material into an orchestral ‘miniature epic’ depicting the transformation of swords into ploughshares amid a scene of unabashed pastoral tranquillity.

Janácek’s two ‘Excursion of Mr Broucek’ operas—the ‘excursions’ in question being ‘to the moon’ and ‘to the fifteenth century’—concern themselves with traditional tales of medievalist escapism. Dedicated to ‘the liberator of the Czech nation’ (Tomáš Masaryk, the country’s president in the years following its separation from the Austro–Hungarian empire), this is music of an irrepressible vivacity and optimism; the suite recorded here (prepared after the composer’s death) draws together the considerable quantity of purely orchestral music from the operas—including some of Janácek’s original drafts.

The broad sweep of these orchestral works is given full flight in luxurious performances from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under its Chief Conductor Ilan Volkov.

Czechoslovakia’s independence was to be short-lived, but Janácek’s aspirational music can stand today as a symbol of what might have been.

CDA67517  59 minutes 17 seconds
‘The gifted young Israeli conductor Ilan Volkov masterminds a laudably disciplined and full-throated account of this bracing rarity … Hyperion's glowing natural sound-frame (courtesy of the Keene ...
‘Elizabeth Layton contributes silvery violin solos, and under its young Chief Conductor Ilan Volkov, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra is idiomatic and incisive … warmly recommended’ (BBC Music ...
‘The Eternal Gospel dates from 1913, and so is mature Janáček, sharing much with the sound world of his operas. As this sympathetic performance shows, it's a piece that has been cruelly neglected’ (Th ...