1921, 1925, 1926, 1977, 2006, Music

Káťa Kabanová; Cappriccio; Concertino (1977, 2006) by Leos Janacek, performed by Wiener Philharmoniker conducted by Charles Mackerras featuring Elisabeth Söderström, Peter Dvorský, Naděžda Kniplová

This set pairs a Janacek opera with two of his chamber music pieces. It’s an odd pairing, but in the era of the CD it was a regular thing when an opera failed to fill out two discs.

Káťa Kabanová is considered Janacek’s first “mature” opera but I think I like it less than Jenufa. It’s still pretty appealing and very clearly of a different ilk than so many of the 19th century operas that proceeded it. It’s not as radical (and, therefore, to me, not as interesting) as the kinds of things people like Debussy and Berg were doing at this time, but it’s still pretty good stuff.

The Cappriccio is a neat little chamber piece that sounds extremely modern – there’s a jazz influence, I think, though I don’t know that Janacek would have known jazz. (It could just be the influence of the Viennese school I detect and I’m just getting things confused. Or maybe he attended a World’s Fair.) I like it, but it feels very unlike Janacek. (Not that this is a bad thing…) The later movements are more conventional, however – much more pastoral in the Romantic sense. And there’s one part that sounds like it’s right out of a movie.

Why do I know the first movement of the Concertino so well? I’ve heard it somewhere seemingly many times. I don’t know the rest of it, like the first movement. It’s also quite modern, perhaps more so over all than the Cappriccio even if that starts out far more modern sounding. It’s great stuff.
It’s of course odd to have two chamber pieces with an opera but I can’t say it bugs me; everything’s good here and the chamber pieces are like a nice dessert to the opera. A better dessert than the main, in fact.


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