|Founder: Len Mullenger|
Bedřich SMETANA (1824-1884)
Má Vlast (My Country)
A cycle of symphonic poems
Vyšehrad (1874) [14.16]
Vltava (The Moldau) (1874) [12.29]
Šárka (1875) [9.50]
Z českých luhů a hájů (From Bohemia’s Woods and Fields) (1875) [12.13]
Tábor (1878) [12.17]
Blaník (1879) [13.42]
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, cond. Karel Ančerl
AAD: recorded at the Dvořák Hall of Rudolfinum, Prague on 7/10/13/14 January 1963
SUPRAPHON 11 1925-2 011 [75.05]
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Má Vlast is one of those pieces (or rather collection of pieces) which perfectly suits CD. In LP days, we too often had to content ourselves with only Vltava, much the best-known and oft-played of this substantial cycle of symphonic poems. But nowadays, very conveniently, the whole cycle can be accommodated on a single CD – like the Mahler Fifth, the three Bartók Piano Concertos and the Turangalîla Symphony, to name but a few! So there are now several recordings of the five little-known ‘others’ to choose from in the current catalogue. And who could deny that playing through all six of these wonderfully vivid and colourful scores paints a much more complete and varied picture in sound of Smetana’s beloved homeland than Vltava alone? If you’re looking for an upgrade from Vltava to Má Vlast, this justly celebrated and newly reissued ‘homegrown’ performance should do nicely.
I say ‘homegrown’ with the intention that you will expect something different. In an age when comparatively few of us would now tolerate or contemplate big-scale modern-instrument performances of Bach or Mozart, say, insisting instead on the ‘real thing’ – historically accurate recordings with old or replica instruments – it’s interesting that we still happily live with American or Dutch orchestras playing Tchaikovsky or Debussy, even though the sound of a Russian or French orchestra is infinitely closer to the timbres imagined by the composers. When it comes to Smetana and Dvořák, there’s no doubt that the Czech Philharmonic under Ančerl are the ‘real-thing’. Winds warble with an irresistibly rustic, fresh-air quality; and horns sing out with a delicate (and so un-British!) vibrato. Brasses rasp infectiously; strings glow with a sensuous velvet tone; and rhythms bounce infectiously, intuitively. Above all, the ensemble plays as if there never was a time when they didn’t know this music inside out, and love every moment of it!
This studio recording is now nearly 40 years old, and (judged by the best standards of its day) sounds limited in range, and marred by a rather ‘glazed’ colouration. Even so, the ambience is flattering, and hiss levels in this re-issue have been tamed considerably. If the sound quality does it no particular favours, neither does the booklet, which unfortunately offers the bare minimum of background information. But don’t allow these things to put you off.
There’s a great deal of competition for this issue, of course, not least from Supraphon and the Czech Philharmonic itself – in the historic 1954 performance conducted by Talích; the matchless Kubelík live version, recorded at the opening concert of the Prague Spring Festival in 1990; and the (in many ways equally expert, but more glamorously recorded) studio version by Mackerras, who (few would argue) is as expert an authority on Czech music as any true Czech. (Also worth considering is the highly-regarded Naxos disc, 8.550931, of the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra (Katowice) under Antoni Wit. I had forgotten how stylish and accomplished these performances are, with their persuasively authentic East European sonority. And how warmly resonant and atmospheric the engineering is! At less than a fiver, this really is an unbeatable bargain!)
But, as I’ve said, Ančerl and his wonderful orchestra are the ‘real thing’. Buy, hear and believe!
Peter J Lawson
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