Given my obvious love of things Czech, it is no surprise that my favourite piece of music is Czech, and I’ve just been listening to (and watching) a performance of Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass at the first night of the BBC Proms. And what a treat it was!
You don’t get many performances of this piece because it’s fiendishly difficult for anyone who isn’t a professional. It baffles me that tenors manage to survive a performance without bursting a blood vessel; they spend much of the evening singing fortissimo and there are a couple of wicked high Bs in the Creed, the first of them only the fourth note he has to sing. Tonight Ladislav Elgr nailed it, while I don’t think I’ve ever heard a soprano sing the piece better than Asmik Grigorian performed tonight. Add in some spirited conducting by the wonderful Karina Canellakis and it was music in which to luxuriate.
Let me add that the BBC Singers made a good fist of the text, which is a curious version of Old Church Slavonic with changes to some vowels and a gentle trashing of some of the grammar, as a result of which the average Westerner has trouble getting their tongue around some phrases.
All in all, a delight, and well worth seeking out on the BBC iPlayer or BBC Sounds app if the opportunity arises. Slonský has no interest in music but he would have been proud to think that a Czech composer’s music got such a reception as was given tonight. That calls for a beer or two.