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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Leos JANACEK (1854-1928)
Sinfonietta [23.47]
Antonin DVORAK (1841-1904)
Symphony No. 6 in D major, Op. 60 [45.54]
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Rafael Kubelik
Recorded in the Herkulessaal, Munich on 16 October, 1981
Orfeo C 552 011 B [69.41]

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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 recommended.

John Quinn


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