janacek katya kabanova lso live

Leoš Janáček (1854-1928)
Káťa Kabanová (1919-21)
Amanda Majeski (soprano) – Katerina (Káťa)
Simon O’Neill (tenor) – Boris Grigorjevič
Katarina Dalayman (soprano) – Marfa Ignatěvna Kabanová (Kabanicha)
Andrew Staples (tenor) – Tichon Ivanyč Kabanov
Pavlo Hunka (bass baritone) – Savël Prokofjevic Dikój
Magdalena Kožená (mezzo) – Varvara
Ladislav Elgr (tenor) – Váňa Kudrjaš
Claire Barnett-Jones (mezzo) – Glaša/Fekluša
Lukáš Zeman (baritone) – Kuligin, Hedwig Dreschler (mezzo) – Žena,
Adolf Tomaschek (tenor) – Chodek
London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus / Sir Simon Rattle
rec. live, 11 & 13 January 2023, Barbican Hall, London, UK
Libretto in Czech and English
LSO Live LSO0889 SACD Hybrid [2 discs: 99]

How wonderful it would have been to be sitting in the audience 14 months ago at the Barbican Hall and experiencing this occasion in-person. As it is, this pair of SACDs gives a fantastic impression of being there in the moment. The entire occasion has been well-captured by the engineering team. I sampled both the stereo SACD and the CD layer independently and can report that the sonics are simply splendid. The SACD version gives the listener a more fully detailed reproduction of the positioning of the players within the audio spectrum and the inner tonalities of the music, although the CD layer also provides sound of clarity and richness.

Káťa Kabanová has been an opera I first discovered in the early 1980s when I was introduced to Charles Mackerras’ pioneering recording on a set of Decca LP’s (review). This new version on the LSO house label is a strong competitor for the Decca, especially in the technical excellence of the sound.

Amanda Majewski’s heroine offers a clear, lithe soprano sound. She sings the role in a simple, direct manner which is very appealing. Her tone is certainly more secure than that of Elisabeth Söderström on the Decca set, but Söderström is a greater communicator. Majewski shows that the vocal climaxes hold no challenges for her voice and she gains the sympathy of the listener. However, Söderström’s incandescence as an artist, and her ability to convey fragility is on a higher plane altogether than the excellent Majewski.

Simon O’Neill sounds as if he should be singing Tichon rather than Boris. His tenor is a bit thin-sounding in the upper range, which makes him a less appealing troubled lover. Peter Dvorský who sings it on the Mackerras set has a more virile sound and a greater vocal impact and is therefore more appealing and believable as the man who loves Katya and is the partner of her undoing.

Katarina Dalayman is a vividly unpleasant Kabanicha; her powerful, slightly unravelled tone characterizes the harridan well-enough – still Naděžda Kniplová’s idiosyncratic tone on the older set stays in one’s memory in a way that Dalayman cannot quite efface.

Andrew Staples is an appropriately ineffective Tichon, and I rather liked the powerful sound of Pavlo Hunka’s Dikój, his memorable delivery of the text has been well-caught by the engineers.

As the alternate pair of lovers, Ladislav Elgr is a satisfying Kudrjaš, but he is a bit eclipsed by the wonderful Magdalena Kožená as Varvara. The role suits her scintillating, lyric mezzo perfectly and she is the most effective singer at dealing with the textual nuances among this cast. She is certainly a great improvement over Libuše Márová’s Amneris-like approach to Varvara on the Decca set.

Presiding over all of this is Simon Rattle, who guides the score along with an expert hand. He tends to lean into the lyricism of Janáček’s score, giving it a greater emphasis over the more dramatic pages. He avoids taking this too far into sentimentality, which would be unacceptable in any Janáček opera. Turning to Mackerras, he keeps the lyric side of the music in check and in perfect balance with the dramatic music. To use an analogy, Mackerras’ version is like a black and white photograph of this opera, whereas Rattle has produced a print with more of a sepia tint about it. Prospective purchasers need not hesitate about buying this, especially because of the gorgeous, up-to-date sound. I have also derived great enjoyment over the years from Carlo Rizzi’s fine version (in English) on the Chandos label (review).

I would not part with the Mackerras recording for the world, but I will happily put the Rattle version in my player, now and then, for a different take on Káťa.

Mike Parr

Previous review by Mark Sealey (review)

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