Encore: Svanda the Bagpiper: a forgotten Czech classic now available on CD

A new CD has been released of an undeservedly forgotten Czech opera from the 1920s; we also find out what gives Janacek's piano its very particular sound, and there's a chance to hear a hundred-year-old recording of Czech bagpipes.

The Anthology of Czech Music - the set of CDs we reviewed last month - includes a rare recording from around a hundred years ago, but today we look at something altogether more modern: a brand new CD - indeed it is the only recording available - of Jaromir Weinberger's Czech opera Svanda the Bagpiper. This is a work from 1927 that has undeservedly been completely forgotten. At the time it was a huge success - the sleeve notes on the new recording point out that it was translated into 17 languages

Jaromir Weinberger was born in Prague in 1896, and was a versatile musician with real gift for melody and orchestration. He fled the Nazis in the late 30s and settled in the US, where he quickly adapted to the local scene and wrote pieces using American folk materials on themes such as The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. He also wrote a Lincoln Symphony. All these works have fallen into obscurity, although the polka from Svanda the Bagpiper has become a staple of the light orchestral repertoire - without most people even knowing who composed it. The new recording features the National Philharmonic Orchestra of Belarus under the direction of Julian Reynolds on a Naxos recording from the Wexford Opera Festival in 2003. It is great stuff - the opera is full of fine music. It is hard to understand why it has fallen so far out of fashion, but maybe this recording can help rectify that.

Janacek with a difference

And we move on to something else that has fallen out of fashion, Leos Janacek's favourite instrument, the harmonium. This Supraphon CD is called Janacek Unknown. It features Ales Barta playing a harmonium which belonged to the composer himself. Janacek wrote some of the pieces on the CD especially for the instrument, though you usually only hear them on piano today. The harmonium was really for domestic use, a sort of pump organ, and Janacek loved it.

Staying with unusual Janacek recordings, a brand new recording has just come out of works played on Janacek's own piano built in 1876, now in the Janacek Museum in Brno. It's called, simply enough, Janacek's Piano, featuring pianist Jan Jirasky. It contains Janacek's complete piano works.

The piano has leather-covered hammers striking the strings, while modern instruments use felt hammers. The sound is sharper and clearer, which I think well suits some of the pieces on the recording.

CDs reviewed in this programme are provided by Siroky Dvur