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






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Bedrich SMETANA (1824 - 1884)
Má Vlást (My Fatherland)
Israel Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by
Zubin Mehta
Recorded in the Mann Auditorium, Tel Aviv, Israel, 1994 DDD Stereo
SONY ESSENTIAL CLASSICS SBK89776 [70:08]


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Compared to others I have heard, the first symphonic poem in the cycle, Vyšehrad, is rather well handled. Mehta guides his fine orchestra with well turned phrasing. This carefully structured movement tends to the static and it sounds as well here as it ever does. It is Vltava that exemplifies Mehta’s view of the remaining five pieces in the cycle. The opening big tune works well enough but the dances at the Peasant Wedding seem rather militaristic and rigid with little sense of the Slavic countryside. Despite his poor recording, Kubelik’s Vltava on the recently released Eloquence CD (458 180-2), is much better.

In Mehta’s hands the St John Rapids are dominated by thudding timpani and the "big-bass-drum". It is as if Sony are trying to outdo Telarc with bass energy, or the percussionist strayed in from a Sousa recording next door. I suspect this moment might overwhelm small systems. There is, however, generally a decent sense of acoustic here, a rare enough event these days. Šárka is fairly dramatic, but considering that it depicts the tale of a wronged maiden presiding over a bloodbath, Mehta is rather too controlled. From Bohemia’s Woods and Fields sounds curiously uninteresting. In the right hands this movement can be a joy. Here it seems just well turned out. The celebratory Tábor and Blaník are delivered with an appropriate mixture of austerity and grandeur, with the strings of the Israel Philharmonic sounding particularly good, especially the cellos and basses. Unfortunately the end of Blaník is a bit perfunctory and left me feeling slightly cheated of a resolution.

It makes one pause, and indeed marvel, that Smetana attended, but could not hear, the first performance of this lovely cycle of symphonic poems. By 1882 his illness had deprived him of his hearing. Two years later it was to deprive him first of his sanity and then of his life. What we hear is the work of a deaf composer. Somehow that makes Má Vlást an "essential classic" which deserves a place in this appropriately named Sony series. The issue is whether Zubin Mehta’s performance is the one to choose for your essential collection when Naxos for example, have Antoni Wit’s lovely recording at a very similar price, and there are several other authentic performances by Czech orchestras and conductors in the catalogues. Good though Mehta and the IPO are, I have my doubts.

The notes are useful but imperfectly proofed. However it is nice to have Smetana’s own programmes included. Sony’s documentation does not give away anything about the recording save its date, in a microscopic typeface as usual, so I have gleaned the information above from other sources.

Dave Billinge


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