Bedrich SMETANA (1824 - 1884)
Ma Vlast/ My Fatherland
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic
Orchestra Libor Pesek
Recorded Philharmonic Hall,
Liverpool. May 1989
Antonin DVORAK (1841 - 1904)
Domov muj / My Home. Overture Op 62a 10.02
Czech Suite. Op 39 23.01
Symphony No 4 in D Minor. Op 13 42.18
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Recorded Dvorak Hall, Prague
(2:1) May 1995. The House of Artists, Prague (2: 2+3) Mar & June 1989
Virgin Classics 7243 5 61739 2 7 CD1. 76.33 CD2. 75.20
The coupling on one Virgin double CD of works by Czechslovakia's two main
national composers gives a well filled and generally recommendable offering.
All four works are conducted by Libor Pesek, using two different orchestras,
of which the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic shows up better than its Czech
counterparts with a greater weight of string tone.
Disc One is a performance of the Smetana's Ma Vlast - the six sections
in full, not just the two widely heard popular extracts. One would expect
a Czech conductor to have insights into a nationalistic work that embodies
so much of the country's history - real and legendary - that others might
not have, and it shows.
Right from the gorgeous harp theme which opens Vysehrad one feels
involved and not just waiting for the bits with the tunes in them as some
performances become. In Vltava the sound picture is beautifully drawn,
the sense of movement being almost tangible from the rippling strings and
woodwinds. The strings portrayal of the shimmering moonlight before the rapids
was especially noteworthy.
Sarka tells of the eponymous heroine whose revenge on men is the basis
of the legend. With hints of only partly explored themes it sounds like a
blueprint for a longer, unwritten work. Alert strings, some fine brass playing
and busy percussion, make this piece in some ways the most interesting of
the set. From Bohemia's Meadows and Fields with its deservedly popular
'big tune' is an undoubted success. Supported by an ultra responsive group
of musicians Pesek is able to linger, as he does, over the well-known melody
yet inject a lively tempo into the polka-like passages. The orchestra really
shines here with superb upper string playing and glowing woodwinds and horns
in the chorale.
Tabor and Blanik, the two final sections, are separate but
with a musical link. Tabor's hushed, eerie opening and heavy brass
chording make a powerful effect prior to the first entry of the Hussite hymn
tune which joins the two sections. Blanik shows more beautiful wind
and horn playing.
The recording is first rate, with depth in a natural sounding ambience, vividness
and it shows off the R.L.P.O. to great advantage. Highly recommended.
Sadly, the second CD is something of a disappointment. Libor Pesek switches
to the Czech Philharmonic in three works by Dvorak recorded in Prague. Neither
in performance nor content does the grouping match its companion disc.
The main work is Dvorak's D Minor Fourth Symphony, dating from 1874 but not
performed until 18 years later. The first movement's attractive lilting theme
lacks a degree or two of lightness. The horns and tubas at the opening of
the slow second movement reflect Wagner's strong influence - a near copy
of a theme from Tannhauser follows. This Andante as played
is stolid and slightly inflexible, and dare I say, dull. In the final two
movements the lightness of touch which had been lacking so far appears and
the work takes off to some degree. The Scherzo is finely driven and
the vigorous Finale concludes a performance best described as patchy.
Dvorak's melodic gifts shine in his Czech Suite of 1879 - a short
five movement work of considerable charm with much folk based material. Pastoral
music in essence, here given a beautifully pointed performance full of rhythmic
vitality with notably some first rate woodwind playing heard clearly in a
beautifully textured recording. In the hands of an all Czech team its appeal
becomes obvious. A little winner. The overture My Home which completes
the disc reflects Dvorak's nationalism in a performance which plays an occasional
piece for its full worth.
The Czech recording is bright and open with clear textures.