Ančerl was something
of a hero to any students on a strangulated budget in the 1970s. Many
of us were more than happy to explore Bartók, Janáček, Martinů,
Stravinsky and others via the cheapish range of Supraphon LPs. Ančerl
was our guide through the Glagolytic Mass, Taras Bulba,
the Concerto for Orchestra, Petrushka and the Rite.
Later I encountered Ančerl in the flamboyant Second Symphony of
Balham-born Canadian, Healy Willan - a noble Elgarian work by the way!
In that case he conducted the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. The TSO are
represented in this set by the Martinů Fifth.
Supraphon are one of many
companies who have licensed material to this series. The negotiations
with so many companies must have been heavy going. It was worth it to
EMI Classics? On CD1 Ančerl's Taras Bulba,
is there with hardly any hiss. The
sweet-slender tone of the various instrumental solos makes this a superb
recording - stereo too. Listen also to the abrasively gripping and bass
barking brass. I hanker for the Ančerl Sinfonietta
rather than Taras which is the weaker work. Listen out for the
wonderfully clean icy-sharp etching of the violins and the harp ostinato
in The Death of Ostap (tr.7). Was this work known to Britten
before he started on the morning music from Peter Grimes?
Ančerl presents the work shorn of Talich's Beecham-like retouchings.
The end results show Ančerl's enthusiasm to exploit the best of
the new recording techniques and the sturdy illusion of stereo spread.
We are talking about 1962 here!
Novak's Slovak Suite was
also recorded by Ančerl but I am pleased that the exalted
and transcendent In the Tatras was
preferred by producers Stephen Wright and John Pattrick. Ančerl
was audacious in his choice. Novák was generally taken to be Talich
territory (it was a work Talich recorded in the 1940s). While Ančerl
had learnt from Talich, as Handley learnt from Boult, it was
still a brave step.
This Novak is the oldest recording in this set
and is in mono. It was made in the cramped Domovina Studio. In this
it differs from the other Czech PO items on CD1 which were made in
the famed Rudolfinum. Ančerl had only just taken over the country's
premier orchestra and, as mentioned later, there were tensions between
conductor and player. There are no telltales of disharmony in the playing.
I would place it in a similar league with
the mid-1960s stereo Sejna Novák recording on Supraphon (SU 1922-2 911)
although Ančerl's strings are sleeker and better nourished. The
celesta and harp notes cut intimately towards the listener. It is such
a pity that there was no-one to push Ančerl into recording
Novák's two late symphonies including the Autumn Symphony.
The Krejcí Serenade is for full
orchestra. This three movement 1950 composition brims with solo detailing
and the irreverent activity in the outer movements make it a Czech analogue
of Milhaud (Boeuf sur le Toit), Shostakovich (Piano Concerto
No. 1), Khachaturian (Masquerade), updated Rossini and even Bernstein.
The middle movement andante is a
touching and quiet interlude. Ančerl also recorded Krejzí's Second
5 was captured in Toronto two
years after he had moved there in 1968. He had just left Czechoslovakia
confirmed in his decision by the Soviet invasion and the ending of the
Dubček experiment. Ančerl succeeded Ozawa (who recorded Messiaen
with them for RCA) and preceded Andrew Davis (who recorded some
fine Borodin there for CBS). He had signed on the dotted line with Toronto
in January that year. The invasion was not until August. He had intended
holding dual principal positions at Toronto and Prague. The invasion
put paid to that. It is a privilege to have a good stereo version of
Ančerl's Martinů 5 which has
all the usual virtues - joyous surging élan and split-second rhythmically
alive music. Martinů's exit to North America left the way clear
for his successor, Vačlav Neumann, to record the Martinů Six.
I wonder whether Ančerl conducted
all six. There are Ančerl recordings of all the symphonies (save
only 2 and 4) courtesy of Multisonic and Supraphon.
The Fifth always seems
to me to be Martinů's answer to Beethoven's Fourth and Seventh
Symphonies, with the usual faint neo-classical tinge and a much stronger
neo-romantic tendency. It was recorded by Ančerl in the fifties
in mono. That Supraphon recording is still available. This CBC recording
sounds more translucent (and light is a prime factor in Martinů).
It is not as iridescently airy as
Neumann's Fifth with Ančerl's one-time orchestra but that was
made eight years after this one. It certainly trounces the Robert Whitney/Louisville
version you used to be able to get on an RCA Gold Seal LP. Neumann
times in at 29.48 against Ančerl's 26.55. The Neumann is on Supraphon
11 0382-2 1013 as part of a boxed set of the complete Martinů symphonies
(reviewed elsewhere on this site).
recorded close-up with every minute detail gracefully relished, rounded
and accented. Ančerl's is not a quick performance. The approach
is highly poetic and patient. Vienna's 'second' orchestra find Straussian
overtones in the Peasant Wedding episode.
8 was taken down from a live performance with the Concertgebouw.
It is jaunty, lively and autumnal-toned like Brahms Third. The warmly
regretful allegretto grazioso smiles and sings developing a mood
familiar from the Slavonic Dances. The finale has some fruitily
beautiful woodwind contributions (e.g. the flute at 2.39). It ends in
the roaring and whirling updraft of the Furiant. The last of
the Op. 46 set of Slavonic Dances resumes the giddy Furiant
mood at the end of CD2. This brings the disc to almost 79 minutes.
Patrick Lambert's notes provide what comes to an extended
encyclopedia entry for Ančerl. I have
magpied them shamelessly for this review. Lambert reminds us that twenty
years after Ančerl's death in Toronto in July 1973 his ashes and
those of his widow were returned to his homeland. They were reinterred
at Vyšehrad on the first day of the 1993 Prague Spring Festival.
Nikolai Golovanov (vol.
8 of the series) had cause for bitterness because of his summary dismissal
from the Bolshoi. Ančerl however owed communist government his
appointment in 1950 to head the Czech Phil. He had to struggle for some
years against the resentment of orchestra members who were used to being
consulted over who was to be their principal conductor. Ančerl
is reported as having strong communist leanings during the 1950s. He
did his duties which extended to premiering
and recording communist cantatas such as Vačlav Dobias's Build
Your Country and Jan Kapr's In the Soviet Land. The Festive
Overture is hardly prime Shostakovich but its rumbustious bustle
and flashiness make it a very suitable, if superficial, opener - a Soviet
'answer' to Bernstein's Candide Overture?
Before the war he had immersed himself in new music.
It is forgotten that he was a pupil of Aloys Haba and was associated
with Scherchen and the ISCM movement. German occupation and his association
with the 'music of degeneracy' resulted in his consignment to Terezin.
He was the only member of his family to survive the concentration camps.
Macha's 1966 Variations on a theme by the composer Jan Rychlík
reminds us that Ančerl was not averse
to 'modernism'. The Variations are not exactly thorny but they are noticeably
the chilliest and most tonally challenging of the scores in this set.
The eerie solo woodwind cries seem to have taken the nightmare episodes
from Josef Suk's Asrael Symphony as their point of departure.
This is Macha's tribute - a funeral oration almost - to Rychlík.
The African Cycle by Rychlík is for eight wind instruments
and piano and anticipates minimalism by a decade or so. Be warned -
there is little of comfort in this work and more of horror, protest
You may well already have Taras Bulba on
Supraphon although that label is not that often seen on record shop
shelves. The Martinů is on a CBC disc but those are even rarer
- except perhaps in Canada. As for the rest, these are collectors' items
from a conductor with a natural leaning towards the
poetry in music. The Ančerl-bund will snap this up. Others will
find much to reward them in Ančerl's caring approach.
This the first volume in the 'Great Conductors of the
20th Century' series. The series has a far better claim to the spanning
ambition of the word 'Great' than the other EMI series: Great Recordings
of the Century.
The presentation in this series is perfect. Black and
charcoal grey predominates. Design is practical and shows none of the
usual signs of designer insecurity and neurotic pursuit of originality
at the expense of utility. Sadly the clever clever norm has turned many
a classical CD into a design disaster area with practical issues such
as legibility coming under the sacrificial knife.
Each double CD set in this series is housed in a cardboard
sleeve holding a single width double CD jewel-case. The leaflets are
trilingual and very fully detailed.