Douboe Play: Shock of the old, shock of the new

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The Independent Culture
JANACEK: Glagolitic Mass (original version). KODALY: Psalmus Hungaricus

Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra & Chorus / Charles Mackerras

(Chandos CHAN 9310)

THE FIRST shock to the system comes with the lashing strings and tumbling trumpets of the 'Intrada'. Janacek's dramatic closing gesture is here mirrored at the opening. That was the custom, the way the Glagolitic Mass was first performed. Other changes took place at the time, all of them compromises, practical simplifications of a wild and wilful score. And we've lived with them ever since. So here at last is the unexpurgated first version. And it comes as no surprise that our own honorary Czech, Sir Charles Mackerras, is at the helm. Is it hugely different? Not hugely, no. But there are surprises, and it is amazing how the most radical of them shifts perspective on the surrounding music. In the 'Credo' (Veruju), the organ solo of the 'Crucifixus' is repeatedly invaded by outraged strings and three sets of brutalising pedal timpani. That will shake you. Just as the off-stage clarinets in the long interlude immediately prior will haunt you - such a surreal effect. Add to these 14 extra bars in the 'Sanctus' that extend its reach and further reiterate its shouts of acclamation. It's here that Mackerras's intrepid Danish choir really do begin to sound like pagans who've been Christian for about a week. Their orchestral colleagues are sorely stretched (who isn't?) by so much that is cruelly exposed. A few threadbare patches early on betray the absence of a heavyweight string section. Everybody seizes with evident relief the great choral unisons of Kodaly's Psalmus Hungaricus, its mounting fervour well chronicled. Peter Svensson is the rough and ready tenor with all kinds of insecurity in repose. A short career there, I fancy. But the Janacek's the thing. It isn't the last word in performances (Ancerl had that), but it's the first in every other sense. Edward Seckerson

IS NOTHING sacred? The Glagolitic Mass as many of us have known and revered it turns out to be a cut, simplified version, made because provincial Czech choirs and bands simply couldn't cope with it as it stood. Listening to the original 'Uvod' ('Introduction' - now the second movement of the Mass, not the first), you can see why. Instead of the familiar stately 3/4 tread, groups of three, five and seven beats alternate edgily - or at least that's the impression here; I'm not sure Mackerras's otherwise excellent team are quite at ease in this rhythmic obstacle course. But elsewhere the gains are clear, and astonishing. The four- square phrase patterns at the beginning and end of the 'Gospodi Pomilui' (Kyrie) now emerge as a fascinatingly irregular 5/4; the central crescendo of the 'Veruju' (Credo) now pits three timpanists thrillingly against the choir's anguished cries and frantic scurrying of the organ; and the 'Svet' (Sanctus) acquires a gloriously heightened final climax. It's easy to say, I know, but I never thought the familiar version quite worked there.

My one slight misgiving about the 'Uvod' apart, the performance is generally as remarkable as the restored score itself. The Danish Radio Choir copes with the new hair-raising demands confidently (the old, 'simplified' version was hard enough) and with passion; the orchestra obviously relishes Janacek's unique, sometimes startlingly vivid colours, and the repetitive rhythms come to life rather than simply grinding out, hurdy-gurdy style. And Mackerras conducts this newly restored Glagolitic Mass as though its formal and dramatic cogency were obvious from the first moment he opened the manuscript - it can't have been that easy. I've often been uplifted by the parts before, but never so convinced by the whole. A splendid solo team and fine recordings complete what is almost certainly going to be one of the releases of the year. Stephen Johnson

CARNIVAL] French coloratura arias

Sumi Jo, English Chamber Orchestra / Richard Bonynge (Decca 440679-2)

TRILLS, frills, and abundant roulades. Vocal pirouetting of a high order. Whatever turns you on. Sumi Jo's pert, rather one-dimensional voice does what it does with frightening precision, gathering high E flats like they were celestial flora. At the Olympics they'd call it 'speed singing'. The repertoire, all of it terminally twee, lends itself. Bird imitations abound (the inevitable duets with flute); canary fanciers should take special note of Adam's Chanson du canarai (what a horror that is). Thank heaven for Messager's Le jour sous le soleil beni, a peach of a tune in a salad of froufrou. Bring me a double serving of verismo. Quickly. ES

Light as sorbet, inconsequential as The Clothes Show, all the same this is delightful stuff in small doses. Only in the final Carnival de Venise did the vocal contortions jar slightly; otherwise the fabulously ornate writing is delivered with panache and firm technical control. Perhaps it could be a little more abandoned, or warmer - once or twice the image of a sophisticated mechanical canary came to mind - but the polish and verve are undeniable. SJ

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