Rafael Kubelik (1914-1996) was a notable interpreter
of Czech music. This Orfeo disc gives us the opportunity to hear him
in ‘live’ accounts of two works which he also recorded commercially
with conspicuous success. The recordings originate from Bavarian Radio,
of whose orchestra he was Music Director from 1961 to 1979.
I am not sure if his studio recording of the Janacek
(also with the BRSO) is currently available. I still have it in its
original 1971 LP incarnation and can vouch for its excellence. This
later performance seems to me to be no less fine and it has, perhaps,
that frisson of extra tension which live performances often have. Janacek’s
highly distinctive orchestration takes most of the instruments, especially
the strings and horns, to the limits of their registers but the Bavarian
players cope admirably with everything that is asked of them.
Kubelik obviously knew this score backwards and he
has an unerring, instinctive feel for the idiom. Crucially, he knows
when (and by how much) to relax and when to screw up the tension. The
performance is electric and at the end the audience responds most enthusiastically,
and rightly so.
Dvorak’s first six symphonies have never attained the
popularity of his last three works in that genre. It’s hard to understand
why the Sixth, in particular, is not much better known, the more so
when one hears a performance such as this. I haven’t heard Kubelik’s
earlier studio performance, which was part of his complete cycle with
the Berlin Philharmonic and I believe it was last available only as
part of the complete set. However, for anyone wanting just this symphony,
Orfeo now fills a gap.
The whole symphony is suffused with lyrical warmth
and great charm and Kubelik conveys all of this in a reading of poise
and affection. Particularly enjoyable is the second movement, a rich
Adagio, which finds the strings in eloquent form and the winds
glowing (I love the slightly rustic clarinet tone). The succeeding furiant
provides a marvellous contrast with the cross rhythms delightfully sprung
and the whole movement delivered with relish and panache.
In summary, this is an extremely satisfying and idiomatic
performance and since the Janacek coupling is also very successful this
seems to me to be a highly desirable issue. The recorded sound is clear
and perfectly satisfactory. The notes are not much better than adequate
but it is the performances which are the real attraction here. Strongly