Leos Janácek: Lasské Tance -- Suita opus 3 is a collection of early works by the eminent Czech composer on the German label Orfeo conducted by Gerd Albrecht. Albrecht leads the WDR Sinfonie Orchester Köln in the Lachian Dances and in Janácek's Suita pro orchestr Op. 3, whereas he pilots a small group of singers, the NDR-Chor and the WDR Rundfunkchor Köln, through the choral works Hospodine! and Otcenás (Our Father). Most of this music dates from the 1890s when Janácek was hoping to get a foothold into the concert world outside the provincial one in which he worked -- two decades more would pass before he finally made his breakthrough in London with Jenufa. Although the number of recordings of Janácek's music from his early years is steadily increasing, much of this literature is still obscure even to devotees of the composer.
Most dyed-in-the-wool Janácekians seek out recordings like this one in order to find representation for seldom-recorded pieces, and this one has Hospodine!, which has only been recorded one other time, although the work itself is not even four minutes long. Otcenás (Our Father) has been getting a fair amount of attention, particularly as it presages some aspects of the "high holy minimalism" one associates with composers such as Arvo Pärt, and in this case some of the alternatives (Stephen Darlington on Griffin, the Prager Kammerchor on ECM) are clearly preferable to the Orfeo release under consideration. Albrecht is fortunate in that not a lot of high-powered conductors have essayed the easily accessible and fun Lachian Dances, although Frantisek Jilek on Supraphon does a good job with it. WDR's recording is a little distant and lacking in power, but Albrecht does get a little bit of swing into the performance; you can truly feel the dance element in it, which is something not every conductor has been able to achieve. The Suita pro orchestr Op. 3 is minor Janácek, and largely the Allegretto movement of this suite is the same as the "Pozehnany" dance within the Lachian Dances.
In taking the various parts of Leos Janácek: Lasské Tance -- Suita opus 3 and comparing them to other recordings of the same works, this Orfeo effort is bound to come in second place in most cases. However, this does not account for the effect of this disc as a whole -- it is very easy to listen to, and Albrecht's sense of dedication to this music does come through in the final mix. So perhaps its best audience would be those who are not already terribly familiar with Janácek's formative productions, and to them it will prove satisfying and informative, if not revelatory.