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L’Art de Vaclav Talich - Volume II
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Orchestral Suite No.3
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

The Marriage of Figaro – Overture
Symphony No.33 in B flat K319 (1779)
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841 –1904)

Symphony No.9 From The New World (1893) *
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Suite No.4 Op.61 Mozartiana (1887)
Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra/Vaclav Talich
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Vaclav Talich *
Recorded in June, 1950 except Dvořák No.9, recorded in September 1941

TAHRA TAH 518-519 [2 CDs: 42.44 + 62.07]


Tahra’s last double album set devoted to Talich was exclusively of works by Dvořák. This latest release has one by him – the wartime Ninth Symphony – probably the least familiar of the three recordings Talich left. The conductor has also recently been celebrated in EMI’s ‘Great Conductors of the Century’ series and whilst superficially there might seem to be overlaps this is, with one exception, not the case. The only shared recording is Tchaikovsky’s Mozartiana. With the exception of the New World all the recordings here chart Talich’s post-war time with the Slovak Philharmonic, most of which discs were concentrated in a burst of recording in 1950.

Talich left only two commercial Bach recordings so we’re fortunate to have them both in the catalogues (the other was his accompaniment to Richter in the Keyboard Concerto BWV 1052, currently on Supraphon). His Slovak recorded Third Suite originally appeared on Ultraphon on five 78 sides but has made LP reappearances though not ones with enormously wide currency. Powerfully expressive and old-fashioned in the best sense Talich’s use of diminuendi may strike one now as quixotic as indeed might the mass string portamanti, still a living currency of Bach and Handel performances at this time in some orchestras. But Talich’s remains distinct from a Stokowskian or Mengelbergian aesthetic even as it patently has no truck with prevailing winds of change from contemporary chamber orchestra performances. Coupled with it on this first disc is the overture to The Marriage of Figaro, his only disc of it. This was somewhat opaquely recorded with slightly recessed winds and rather muffled strings but it’s strong evidence of Talich’s buoyancy as a Mozart conductor – evidence cemented by the B flat Symphony, No.33. EMI used the live Czech Philharmonic performance (once on Multisonic) but this Tahra is the studio set with the Chamber Orchestra of the Slovak Philharmonic, as I believe it was announced on the Supraphon 78s. The live recording in Prague is the more lithe and the better recorded; live in Prague in 1954 Talich was stimulated to greater reserves of energy and incision, especially so in the slow movement.

The New World was one of a series of wartime discs Talich made with the Czech Philharmonic. The previous year they had been forced to make a brace of propaganda discs - and in a shameless piece of German insolence the orchestra and conductor were ferried to Vienna where they recorded Tchaikovsky’s Piano and Violin Concertos. Clearly the prospect of the cultural jewel of a subjugated country playing the music of a (then) ally with Austro-German soloists (Winfried Wolf and Wolfgang Schneiderhan) in the Greater Reich appealed to propagandists. Repercussions for the unfortunate Talich were to prove severe. Not surprisingly this 1941 recording of the New World is tighter and tenser than Talich’s post-war 1950 and 1954 readings. It’s most marked in the slow movement where he is over two minutes faster in wartime than he was to be in his more mellow, relaxed and lyrical recordings. But one can hear even in the opening movement the sense of attacca tensile strength, powerful and strong, that courses through this reading. Demerits are the relative lack of inner part detailing in this recording. Strong positives are the Wagnerian glow of the slow movement and the skittering folk violins in the Scherzo, which is just a touch more expansive than the later recordings. Talich admirers will need to add this rare recording to their shelves. We end with Mozartiana, the Suite No.4 Op.61, a witty piece of playing, carried through with due élan and affection. I’m not sure I know the name of the leader of the Slovak Philharmonic, who takes a long solo in the Theme and Variations but I’d like to – ditto the characterful principal clarinet.

There’s been a lot of work recently on a comprehensive Talich discography. The Dvořák Society of Great Britain’s recent book on Talich is a real step forward for those (understandably) confused by his relatively small but often duplicated discography. Tahra enclose their own discography as a booklet with this issue. And very useful it is too. They have retained a skein of 78 surface noise in the rare Ninth but there’s a good amount of detail and the copies used sound good ones. Only a few scuffs mar the Mozart Symphony’s finale. Otherwise this is a real gap filler from Tahra and warmly welcomed.

Jonathan Woolf

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