None of the music on this album is terribly frequently played, at least outside the Slavic countries, and all of it falls outside the primary nationalistic thrust of Janácek's music. Yet there is a thread tying together all the music of this Czech giant, and even among the early works on the program, which date back to the composer's student years in the 1870s, he is recognizable. Those works -- the student exercise Znelka I (meaning "sonnet" or "sonata"), the Suite for string quintet (1877), and the Idyll, for strings (1878) -- reflect the natural influence of Dvorák but already evince an individual voice. The Suite is particularly interesting in that it represents an experimentation with Baroque forms (albeit imperfectly understood); it has the mixture of dry counterpoint and humor that marks so much of Janácek's lighter music. The Idyll, though suite-like in structure, falls into a broader vision of Romantic nationalism; it is an appealing work that could be programmed with any number of Romantic exaltations of nature. The final work comes from the explosion of creativity during Janácek's late life, largely inspired (though he was already married) by an unrequited obsession with a much younger woman. The String Quartet No. 1 is subtitled "The Kreutzer Sonata," and it is likely that Tolstoy's grim story of sexual obsession held resonances for the composer. Unlike the Tolstoy novella, however, the work's program proceeds from the woman's perspective. The arrangement of the work for string orchestra here is by the conductor, Ernst Kovacic. Though he is not the first to make an orchestral version of the piece, its distracted intensity is diminished by distribution over a larger group of musicians. Yet the feel for this dense, passionate music on the part of the Wroclaw Chamber Orchestra, called "Leopoldinium" after the university auditorium where it was formed some years ago, is a major point in the recording's favor. Highly recommended for Janácek buffs.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim