Are You Listening?
Some pieces of music greet you with a hug, kiss both cheeks Euro style and smile incessantly. Others give you a slap on the back and respect your space, and others give you a first impression of insincerity – they won’t even look you in the eye. Now, I may have encountered Leoš Janáček's Sinfonietta before we played it last week, but if I did, it’s wholly MY fault I don’t remember. Janáček not only approached with confidence, he performed 20-plus minutes of astonishing parlor tricks… charm and power combined to flip my equilibrium. To borrow a classic rock lyric, “He’s a magic man, momma.”
Janáček supposedly conceived this piece at a park, listening to some glorious racket from the bandstand, and I wonder if he wasn’t on a speedy carousel as well, because that is the effect of the first movement…tubas and other brass in a maelstrom. It’s a fanfare, it’s a call to arms, it’s the theme from a downright weird procession. And, I haven’t heard it in mono, but I suppose it would be a little decaf, as Janáček clearly enjoys playing with your inner ears throughout.
There’s nothing threatening, just pomp and….circus pants. The militaristic percussion in the second movement is purely of the parade variety, nobody’s marching off to war, and the joyful gymnastic winds prove it. Janáček is juggling the old and new of his hometown Brno, a town that still needs another vowel. A proud military history has been transformed into peace through strength, with soldiers slapping each other on the back at summer soirees. The third movement is an improbably romantic comedy storybook meeting of brass and strings which dance away together to our satisfaction.
By the end, what was the opening has morphed into something just as happily disorienting, while a little bit familiar, but the strings and winds make it… levitate. Here ends a perfect summer evening’s magic show. Janáček tips his top hat and disappears into thin air, as if there’s any other kind of air in which to disappear.
Conductor František Jílek
Brno State Philharmonic Orchestra
Supraphon 11 0282-2