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Jenufa

Jenufa BBC Studios, 19 May 1951

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The authority with which Rafael Kubelik conducted the music of his compatriot Jan ek need not be rehearsed. His commercial recordings of the Sinfonietta and Glagolitic Mass stand at the top of most shortlists.

It s all the more extraordinary that Kubelik was never invited to record Jan ek s operas, which are his greatest and most affecting works – perhaps none more so than Jenufa, which received its first performance in 1904, almost a decade after Jan ek had started work. The enthusiastic reception inspired him to resign from his teaching post and embark on an Indian summer of composition, though he had to wait another decade before finally gaining international recognition (at the age of 60) after the National Theatre of Prague finally granted long-withheld permission to stage Jenufa there.

This performance dates from several years before Kubelik s important tenure as the musical director of the Royal Opera, though one can imagine this performance was instrumental in drawing attention to both the 37-year-old conductor and the opera itself: both were barely known in the UK at that point. Kubelik regarded presentation of opera in the local language as important to its comprehension and reception, and it is characteristic that he should have extended this insistence even to the works of his compatriot which are often thought near-untranslatable in their unity of speech-rhythm with musical idiom.

The success of this performance should persuade any doubters who have not heard Sir Charles Mackerras s recent recording in English. Here, however, as well as a superbly idiomatic conductor, is one of the most powerful assumptions of the title role. Gre Brouwenstijn was a soprano in the true heroic mould, a favourite at Bayreuth and the Royal Opera among other houses, who was passed over by the record companies but whose live recorded legacy amply reveal what Grove notes as her musical intelligence and natural dignity on stage .