Leos Janácekís wonderful setting of the Mass in Old Slavonic defies categorization. Replete with brass fanfares, choral shouts, and one of the craziest organ solos in the literature, it sounds nothing like your average Late Romantic sacred work. Instead, itís a fervent, earthy work that storms Heaven to announce the joys of full-blooded life. After its premiere, a Czech music critic wrote that as an old man the composer had finally become a believer. Replied Janácek: "No old man, no believer."
Rafael Kubelikís 1965 recording has always been one of the very best performances set down on record. Itís a reading filled with passion and drama, along with sharply defined rhythms and a clear grasp of the workís ebb and flow. The Bavarian Radio Symphony plays superbly, with an ideal combination of weight and transparency. The brass episodes just leap out of the speakers. The chorus copes well with the considerable demands levied by the gnarly vulgate Janácek sets. And Kubelik has excellent soloists, especially soprano Evelyn Lear and tenor Ernst Haefliger.
Haefliger also sings beautifully on a recording of Janácekís song cycle about a young peasant who falls in love with a Gypsy girl. Kubelik makes a rare (perhaps itís his only) appearance as a pianist, and he shows himself up to the considerable task Janácekís writing presents. Had they recorded the cycle in the original Czech rather than in German translation, Iíd have not even the slightest qualms about this CD. But itís fabulous listening all the same.