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Twelve Days of Christmas: Always More Janáček

available at Amazon
Janáček, Choral Works, T. Walker, P. Mayers, Cappella Amsterdam, Radio Blazers Ensemble, D. Reuss

(released on January 10, 2012)
HMC 902097 | 71'42"
No one has to twist my arm to listen to more music by Leoš Janáček. Given the Czech composer's background in liturgical music, including a formation as a chorister and student with the Augustinians at the Abbey of St. Thomas in Brno (where Gregor Mendel was a monk and then abbot -- Janáček later played the organ at Mendel's funeral), he wrote quite a lot of music for chorus and knew how to write well for voices. The selection of choral pieces heard on this fine new release from Harmonia Mundi, featuring the excellent chorus of Cappella Amsterdam, includes two lovely sets, as well as a few stand-alone pieces. The young Janáček adapted the Six Moravian Choruses from the Moravian Duets of Antonín Dvořák, and they are just as charming as the original. Even simpler -- and yet more complicated -- is Nursery Rhymes, a charming group of 28 miniatures on almost nonsensical fairy-tale texts, composed originally in a version accompanied only by clarinet and piano late in the composer's life and performed here in the expanded version he made for an unusual assortment of ten instruments (including, at various points, a quite charming ocarina and toy drum), played evocatively by the Radio Blazer Ensemble. Janáček also astounds in his use of harmonium and harp in the expansive, meditative, harmonically lush version of the Our Father, with many repetitions of the Czech text. Liturgical musicians should not be fooled by the plush male-chorus Ave Maria, which sets not the Latin devotional text but a Czech translation of words by Lord Byron from Don Juan. Favorite discoveries include the decadently gorgeous song The Wild Duck and vigorous The Wolf's Trail, both secular pieces, and the intensely personal Elegy on the Death of My Daughter Olga (the second child the composer lost, Olga died at age 20, after becoming sick while studying in Russia), one of several opportunities to appreciate the heroic voice of British tenor Thomas Walker.

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