October  2002

Reference Recordings CD RR-2103
Released: 2002

by John Crossett

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

[Reviewed on DVD]Once again, Tam Henderson and Reference Recordings have dipped into their archival recordings (by Janácek this time around) and remastered them as budget-priced two-disc HDCD sets. And once again the audiophile community is the beneficiary.

Beginning with what are arguably his best-known compositions, the enchanting Sinfonietta, the "Lachian Dances," and "Taras Bulba," the set also includes The Cunning Vixen, Suite, "Jealousy," From the House of the Dead, and conductor José Serebrier’s symphonic synthesis of The Makropulos Case. This music covers the latter, most productive, portion of Janácek's career.

No lightweight composer, Janácek wrote densely orchestrated pieces, even if he labeled them with such lightweight titles as Sinfonietta, which was scored for four flutes, piccolo, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, E-flat clarinet, bass clarinet, two bassoons, four horns, nine trumpets in C, three trumpets in F, two bass trumpets, four trombones, two tenor tubas, timpani, cymbals, bells, harp and strings. It’s a sonic wonder, and Keith O. Johnson's original recordings, dating from 1995-1996, have been wonderfully improved by this new remastering, which incorporates 24-bit/HDCD technology.

The new discs allow us to hear Janácek’s music clearly and musically, even on CD players that don’t contain the Pacific Microsonic’s HDCD decoding chip. The music's dynamic swings are as wide as one might hear in the concert hall, and tonally the instrumentation is on par with the best I’ve heard from CD. Top that off with the wide, deep soundstage achieved here and you have an audiophile gem.

Janácek contains enough of the composer's finest compositions -- wonderfully recorded and very well interpreted -- to justify his reputation as one of the 20th century's great composers. Reference Recordings' two-for-the-price-of-one reissue strategy gives classical music lovers and audiophiles more of what they want for less than they ever could have imagined. What more could we ask for?