Simon Rattle and Covent Garden's recording of Janáček's Cunning Little Vixen on Chandos. A 2003 re-issue of an orig. 1990 EMI recording made through the patronage of The Peter Moores Foundation, i.e. Opera in English. It's a beautiful version of this great work that I haven't listened to in I-can't-remember how long. A 2CD set bought for $3.99 new-old-stock a few days ago on a whim.
Review in the Gramophone by Edward Greenfield (R.I.P.), 2003:
<< Rattle’s vivaciously sung Vixen in a glossy new transfer continues to enchant and charm
The recent DVD-Video of a cut version of this charming opera (BBC/Opus Arte 6/03) has reminded us what gains there are with such a conversational piece in having an English text. Simon Rattle recorded this fine set, originally for EMI, in June 1990 at the Abbey Road Studios, immediately after the run of stage performances at Covent Garden with this same cast. It was generously sponsored, then as now, by the Peter Moores Foundation, and comes as part of the Chandos Opera in English series more handsomely packaged than before, though without the Rattle/Philharmonia version of Taras Bulba which came as a bonus on EMI.
Anyone who wants the opera in English need not hesitate. Each member of the large cast has plainly gained from having so recently performed the same music on stage, adding to the dramatic bite of the story. They make an outstanding team, with Lillian Watson in the name part delightfully bright and fresh and Thomas Allen commanding both musically and dramatically in the key role of the Forester. How rarely have we had such a firm, full-toned baritone voice so ideal for recording. The other characterisations are all strongly individual, of both humans and animals, with outstanding contributions from Robert Tear as the Schoolmaster and Gnat and Gwynne Howell as the Badger and Priest.
Rattle’s warmly expressive conducting demonstrates throughout the special love he has for this score, with the Covent Garden orchestra responding brilliantly. In interpretation, Rattle’s approach provides a clear contrast with that of Sir Charles Mackerras on his classic Decca version with the Vienna Philharmonic and a Czech cast. As our leading Janácek specialist Mackerras characteristically brings out the sharp angular side of the score, the distinctively jagged element, where Rattle’s manner is more moulded, maybe more immediately persuasive if less obviously idiomatic.
The recording is beautifully balanced, with the new Chandos transfer a degree more open on top and cleaner in texture, important in the ensembles. What matters is that the words in both are ideally clear, with excellent diction from everyone. >>