First published in the Guardian on 23 April, 2015
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Gardner (Chandos)
Janacek’s music went largely unnoticed most of his life — hardly gratifying, but perhaps it allowed him a creative freedom that more public artists find harder to risk. Edward Gardner’s survey with the Bergen Phil taps into his boundless, brazen invention, his uniquely Janacekian blend of rustic and caustic. The series began at the end, three blistering late works on the inaugural disc last year. This second volume charts the spry, earthy mid-period symphonic poems and rhapsodies. Ghost tales and Czech legends abound, from the bucolic Ballad of Blanik to the solemn tragedy of The Fiddler’s Child to the ardent Taras Bulba. Jealousy clatters in with pounding timpani and brass. But no matter how rousing, there’s always an edge of realism and grit, and Gardner gets the bittersweet surges and restlessness, the volatile shifts and fleeting whimsy. James Ehnes is a steely, forthright soloist in the Violin Concerto and the Bergen players offer clean, mercurial momentum.