Káťa Kabanová – Rattle with the LSO

Káťa Kabanová – Rattle with the LSO

This, the second part of Simon Rattle’s traversal of Janacek’s operas, follows on from his highly successful The Cunning Little Vixen. Mackerras’ classic Decca account was used for comparison. 

In terms of the conducting, Rattle is a mere half-minute slower, allowing for him omitting the very brief Act 2 Interlude, but, without impeding the dramatic flow, uses more tempo variation and takes a more analytical approach to Janacek’s extraordinary woodwind writing, although the use of harder timpani sticks and the glorious Vienna trombones make the ‘fate’ motif sound more threatening in Mackerras’ Introduction to Act 1. Both make the long-breathed themes that grow out of what Desmond Shaw-Taylor called ‘pregnant melodic germs’ soar with Puccini like opulence and both approaches sound absolutely right. 

You might think given Mackerras used an all-Czech cast with the exception of the great Swedish soprano and polymath, Elisabeth Söderström, that he would win out in terms of authenticity and certainly in the opening scene their pronunciation and declamation are obviously absolutely right. On the other-hand Rattle’s singers respond with equal conviction and make sure every word can be heard.

As Káťa’s vicious mother-in-law Kabachina, Katarina Dalayman is malevolent without going OTT. The love interest Boris’ equally nasty uncle Dikoj is finely characterised by Pavlo Hunka, as is Ladislav Elgr as his assistant Kudrjáŝ, who is more animated than Mackerras’ Zdenĕk Švehla in his Act 2 ballad and all of the smaller roles are well-taken.

Simon O’Neill uses plenty of dynamic variation and is suitably impassioned as Boris, if rather more Wagnerian than the fresh-voiced 25 year old Petr Dvorský. One can say much the same of Amanda Majeski, who uses her powerful voice to delineate every aspect of Káťa’s character, although Söderström’s top is sweeter and her death is unforgettably poignant.

Sound-wise I downloaded the DSD512 from NativeDSD, which, with the warts and all acoustic, is as near as you can get to being there, with tremendous presence and projection and analogue-like instrumental and vocal timbres. Although the 24/192 stream is pretty impressive. 

The booklet contains the libretto with an English translation. 

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