Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Bohuslav MARTINU (1890-1959)
Concerto for Two String Orchestras, Piano and Timpani 'Double Concerto' (1938) [22.13]
Symphony No. 3 (1942) [31.54]
Antonín DVORÁK (1841-1904)
Suite in A major (1898) [21.19]
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Karel Sejna
rec Dvorák Hall, Rudolfinum, Prague, 15-17 Sept 1958 (concerto - stereo); 21 Oct 1949 (symphony); 4-5 July 1956 (Dvorák) MONO
SUPRAPHON 11 1924-2 001 [75.44]

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Some Czech conductors travel to make international reputations while others remain for whatever reason a name and a reputation in their own homeland. Unlike Ancerl (who made it in Toronto and Munich), Kubelik (much associate with the Bavarian RSO and the Chicago Symphony) and Macal whose recordings are on Delos, Karel Sejna only ‘travelled’ via his Supraphon LPs. Most of these have been transferred by Supraphon onto CD. Zdenek Chalabala, Alois Klima and Frantisek Jilek are to this extent in the same category as Sejna.

Sejna’s Martinu Double Concerto has always been a connoisseurs’ choice however he is not without competition. The Supraphon sound is coarse textured but very strong and close - somehow fitting for a work that sounds a little like the Tallis Fantasia on speed laced with cordite, grief and tragedy. The piano acts as a centre-stage orator intensifying and explaining. The Sejna sound amplifies the sense of cataclysm and hysteria that stalks these pages. Mackerras on a modern sounding Conifer CDCF210 is a strong contender though ‘his’ piano is made to sound like a rather pebbly pianola. His Brno State PO is lean with whip sharp reflexes and just the right acidic hysteria. There is a Mackerras Supraphon disc as well but I have not heard that. Amongst the competition the most colossal and the richest is the Belohlavek on Chandos CHAN8950. Macura, on a difficult to locate Panton 81 1204-20111, is big on impact without Belohlavek’s blessing of Chandos luxury sound. My how he taps the anguish and hysteria in this score! The DePreist BIS version, audio-technically speaking, is ennervatingly distanced and I could not recommend it. Conlon’s take on the work is well worth exploring. His controlled interleaved waves of string-sound in the Largo hold you in the cup of his hand though I suppose some may find it mannered. Conlon’s French orchestra is not quite the luxury vehicle enjoyed by Behlolavek. None of these versions is poor as an interpretation. The DePreist can be eliminated only because the recording lacks close up grip though, ironically, it is probably the most representative of a concert experience in a big hall with the listener sitting in ‘the Gods’. The Conlon stays with me because of his memorable way with the Largo. Go for the Chandos for an excellent interpretation in gold bullion sound. The Macura and the Sejna are older and are well worth considering. Some of you will have learnt your first Martinu through the LP of this recording and need have no reservations about returning to it now. Mackerras gives the most intense performance of all. Truth to tell you cannot really go wrong with any of these though I do urge caution with the BIS.

Double Concerto I II III

Sejna (Supraphon) 6.25 8.40 7.01
DePreist (BIS) 6.39 8.09 6.28
Belohlavek (Chandos) 6.42 8.14 6.45
Mackerras (Conifer) 6.25 8.21 6.59
Macura (Panton) 6.54 8.24 6.54

This is a truly historical collection. The youngest recording is 43 years old and the oldest 52. Everything but the double concerto is in mono and the Symphony No. 3 which has been transferred from 78 masters is in noticeably poorer sound - distanced and fragile. Its 78 issue was Supraphon H23329-32. You do adjust to the sound but the performance does not have the concentrating powers of the Järvi or Neumann - the latter softened somewhat by the reverberant recording acoustic. This tendency is reflected in Sejna’s more languorous way with the Largo. Martinu was rather fond of the Largo as a mood and tempo marking witness the Double Concerto and all the symphonies except 2 and 6.

Symphony No. 3

žejna 31.54
Järvi 28.51
Neumann 28.36

The Dvorák Suite began life as a piano solo written during his years in the USA. It was published by Simrock in the same year (1894). He orchestrated it upon his return to Czechoslovakia in 1895 though it had to wait until 1911 for publication, a year after the premiere. There have not been a large number of recordings. The few there have been include: RPO/Antal Dorati on Decca 411 735-2DH2 and Royal Liverpool PO/ Libor Pesek Virgin Classics VC7 90723-2. I also recall very clearly a late era LP on CBS in which Michael Tilson Thomas conducted the cantata American Flag and this Suite also known as The American Suite. The Suite is a charmer in Sejna’s hands. The inspiration ranges from delectable to hum-drum. He is at his best when he lilts to the sway of the Slavonic Dances. The whole effect is perhaps comparable to Coleridge-Taylor’s Petite Suite though Dvorák is a better tunesmith.

Cordially recommended for the Martinu Concerto.

Rob Barnett


Sejna should also be remembered for his Novák (Tatras, Eternal Longing - SU 1922 2 911), Fibich Symphonies 2 and 3 (SU 1921 2 001), Dvorák 6 and 7 (SU 1918-2 001), Ma Vlast (SU 1913-2 001).


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