CD review: Janacek orchestral suites

First published in the Guardian on 22 September, 2016

Janacek: Orchestral suites
Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra/Netopil (Supraphon)

The best opera composers use their orchestras to tell the unspeakable emotional stories that words can’t or won’t. Janacek was a master of this, but he didn’t write many passages for orchestra alone and so various conductors and musicologists have pilfered bits from his operas to be played as instrumental suites in concert. Even then it’s no easy task given his vocal lines are so intertwined with his instruments — Janacek rhythms, especially, are all about the contours of everyday speech. This disc contains three hefty suites compiled from the operas Jenufa, Katya Kabanova and Fate; they’re medleys of big themes and interludes in which vocal parts are sometimes replaced by instruments (a trumpet in Jaroslav Smolka’s Suite from Katya, for example) and which are played by the Prague orchestra under Tomas Netopil with weighty carefulness. I missed the nimbleness and acerbic chatter of my favourite Janacek interpreters (Mackerras), but there is detail and richness in the playing that feels very much at home.