so many Ma Vlast
s around by Czech orchestras why should
the collector opt for one with the Leipzig Gewandhaus? The
orchestra has obvious strengths including gloriously rounded
sound and technical excellence; attributes retained to this
day. That aside, the answer surely comes in the shape of
the conductor, Václav Neumann. Neumann was co-founder and
first violin of the Smetana Quartet before moving to the
rostrum. One can find his recording with the Czech Philharmonic
on Supraphon Archive 111958; Neumann’s magnificent DVD of
the Dvořák Stabat
on Arthaus was a MusicWeb International Recording
of the Month
in November 2007.
The glorious sound of the Gewandhaus orchestra in full
flight at the height of the opening “Vyšehrad” is a joy.
The recording has enough body to convey the prevailing warmth
of the orchestra as well as to cope with the climax without
buckling. The creaminess of the brass towards the end of
the movement is a source of pure joy.
“Vltava” - or, as it is known on the back-cover “Die
Moldau” - enters a lighter world where flutes cavort, chasing
each other without a care in the world. The “peasant dance” -
just after four minutes in - has a great deal of joy about
it; the music sounds particularly close to Dvořák here.
Most impressive is the gossamer web of sound Neumann has
his Leipzigers conjure up around the seven-minute mark, a
moment of pure blue-skies calm. “Sarka” could hardly be
more different, its basis being the declamatory gesture.
Neumann inspires his orchestra to a real sense of fire, especially
in the final bars of the movement. “From Bohemia’s Meadows
and Forests” (here “Aus Böhmens Hain und Flur”) is most memorable
for the woodwind contributions in the quiet sections, truly
evocative of a Czech pastoral scene and also for the highly
effective reading of the slightly disturbed feel of the music
around the five-minute mark. Perhaps full elation is just
missed as the music heads unstoppably on towards its conclusion.
In this performance, Neumann seems happiest in the moments
of mystery, something evinced by the wonderfully shadowy “Tábor”.
Here the triumphal lit-from-within statements carry much
weight but perhaps not enough glow. Finally, “Blaník” contains
moments of lovely lightness, plus, again, some truly spellbinding
woodwind contributions - particularly from the solo oboe.
The Leipzig orchestra, finally, blazes in the closing passages
of the piece.
The down-side of this release is the presentation. Housed
in a flimsy card case around a plastic centre, there are
no commentating notes and no indication as to the provenance
of the recording apart from “P1968 Deutsche Schallplatten
Berlin”. Definitely worth hearing nonetheless.