> Bedrich Smetana - Ma Vlast [DB]: Classical CD Reviews- Jun2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Bedrich SMETANA (1824-1884)
Má Vlást (My Fatherland)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Rafael Kubelik
Recorded Vienna 1959 ADD Stereo
ELOQUENCE DECCA 458 180-2 [74.51]



It is regrettable to issue this rather dodgy old recording without being more explicit about its age. It is not that the date 1959 is missing; it is just extremely small. When this performance of Má Vlást was first issued in the Summer of 1959 by Decca it was not seen as a sonic success. Remember this was the same orchestra and recording company who had just put down Das Rheingold in truly spectacular fashion, so their credentials were, and are, undoubted. This effort is hissy and rather rough at times. I am also disturbed that the label ADD has been applied. If this is a digital remastering then why, at the end of Blanik, can I clearly hear first the master-tape fade down, then, after about 10 seconds, another layer of tape noise fade away? To me this says copy of a copy. The performance has been reissued at least three times, most recently on Belart, so anyone could be responsible. The sound is poor-to-adequate throughout the cycle and with so many other Kubelik recordings of Má Vlást in existence this one seems poor value even at its rock bottom price. Add to these woes the unchecked and insubstantial notes, lifted directly from the original LP by the looks of it, and even then cut, and we have a bit of a loser.

However, there is the matter of the performance! I have not much to say about Vyšehrad because as a piece it never seems to get going. But it is followed by a fast and rhythmically exciting Vltava that has such gusto in its central country dance section, and such a dramatic waterfall that I almost forgave. Only almost, because all that "surging in the rapids of St John" does require much more of the Vienna percussion than this poor old recording can easily contain. Šárka really does find Kubelik on top form and the eponymous maid can be heard slaking her lust for slaughter with great clarity, even the recording seems to open up a little here. This really is a classic performance. From Bohemia’s Woods and Fields is very tuneful and draws from the VPO some lovely playing. Both the final two movements Tábor and Blaník, celebrating the glories of the Hussites, are splendid. I was left feeling that, despite everything, I had heard a very fine performance.

Kubelik has recorded this piece five times (my best stab at the dates is: 1956, 1959, 1971, 1985, 1990). Consensus of critical opinion is that he made better recordings of Má Vlást than this one on at least two occasions: Bavarian Radio Symphony on Orfeo (1985) and Czech Philharmonic on Supraphon (1990). Since the most recent of these is reckoned to be the best he ever did, I remain unconvinced that we should give house-room to this hissy relic of the 1950s.

Dave Billinge



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