> Karel Ancerl. Volume 3 [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Karel Ancerl. Volume 3
Antonín DVORÁK (1841-1904)

Cello Concerto Op 104 (1895)
Piano Concerto Op 33 (1876)
Slavonic Dances Op 72 (1886)
Symphony No 7 Op 70 (1884)
Mstislav Rostropovich, cello
František Maxián, piano
Orchestra of the Hessischen Rundfunks (Piano Concerto March 1964, Symphony No 7 April 1968)
Toronto Symphony orchestra (Cello Concerto March 1972)
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra (Slavonic Dances, Wellington, NZ September 1959)
Karel Ancerl
TAHRA 136-137 [75.58 and 76.39]



Three major additions to Ancerl’s Dvořák discography are contained in Tahra’s slimline double and makes this an unusually discerning release. It also makes for a harmonious programme, the two concertos framed by maybe Dvorák’s greatest Symphony and by a set of the delicious and less well-known Op 72 Slavonic Dances. In the concertos Ancerl was following, discographically speaking, directly in Talich’s footsteps because the older man had recorded the Cello Concerto with Rostropovich in June 1952 and the Piano Concerto with Maxián in November 1951. Those three additions to the discography are the Concertos and the Symphony.

Maxián was a thoughtful, lyrical and impressive musician and his Concerto performances were famous; his was the name most associated with it in the 1950s and he invariably followed the Vilem Kurz edition, as distinct from his better known colleague the expatriate Firkušný, most associated with the work in the West (and who made a memorable recording of it with another superb Czech expatriate, Susskind, and who gravitated from simple Kurz to Kurz-Dvořák). Lovingly phrased but lacking the tension of Talich and Susskind the Maxián-Ancerl opens affectionately, with sensitive highly musical passagework which in other hands can sound a bit listless. The violins are fresh and verdant in their moments of ardour at, say, 14.25 and whilst the slight discursiveness of the thematic development is never quite effaced, Maxián and Ancerl are splendid advocates even if there is a rather slack conclusion to the opening movement. Limpidity and decorative simplicity inform the Andante sostenuto whereas the finale is bristling and active and very slightly broader than Maxián’s 1951 recording with Talich.

Rostropovich has recorded the Cello Concerto multiply – most famously with Talich (fascinating rehearsal snippets exist of that recording) but with, amongst others, Karajan, Boult (a favourite of mine) and Giulini. For this performance he is joined by Ancerl in Toronto, of which orchestra he was chief conductor followed his defection from Prague in 1968. It’s more than a souvenir, more than a mere adjunct but in truth not the kind of performance to obliterate memories of Rostropovich’s other traversals. He eases into and stretches the line with artistry and affection but I find the first movement, for all his skill, rather indulgent when it comes to pursuing a line. At the climax of the movement he and Ancerl engage in a deliberate retardation that sounds forced and surprisingly unnatural. I admired the excellent Toronto woodwind section, the oboe and clarinet choir prominent amongst them in the second movement that is a minute longer than it was twenty years earlier in Prague. The plangent clarinet reappears in the finale nicely duetting and pirouetting around the cello; there’s a serious but not seldom feel to the close and a sense of strength and conviction.

The Seventh Symphony was, rather remarkably, another work missing from Ancerl’s commercial discography. Karel Sejna had recorded Nos 5-7 as well as the Symphonic Variations, rather closing the door on Ancerl for Supraphon. By the time he had come to the West time was catching up with him and he didn’t live to record it in the studios. So what we have here, an April 1968 performance with the Hessischen Radio Orchestra is doubly valuable and it’s fortunate, if unsurprising, that this is such a fine, dark-hued, strong performance and played with real symphonic acuity by the orchestra. Concentrated but flexible, its Brahmsian affinities intact but subsumed, the first movement is splendidly done. The adagio has depth as well as movement and from 3.00 onwards a sense of almost airborne eloquence conjoined by splendidly articulate winds – Ancerl really did cultivate the winds, he was no first violin man. The scherzo is forceful and attractive; solid violin playing and at 6.35 broadening into the vague hints of Tristan. Cellos are lean, focussed, alert, the brass bubbling and a sense of vigorous momentum. More pleasures in the finale – precise wind chording, the sense of almost operatic fantasy that Ancerl generates, the magnificent principal clarinet’s liquid tone and the powerful brass. How well Ancerl generates that sense of strain and fracture at the end, as he drives the symphonic argument forward. Most impressive all round.

To complete the discs there are the Op 72 Slavonic Dances recorded during a concert given by the touring Czech Philharmonic in Wellington by New Zealand Broadcasting. With a period announcement and applause after every number – real and spirited, delighted applause at that – this is a treasurable memento and is irresistible music making. Yes, the sound is of its time and perhaps slightly worse even than this being recessed and opaque but it won’t stop you admiring the brio and bounce of the First, the delicious weight of string tone in No 2, their rise and fall beautifully pointed, the bustle and bounce of No 3, the strong power of No 4, or, say, the euphoric galvanizing peroration of No 7. Splendidly life-enhancing performances.

Supraphon is currently bringing out a huge Ancerl edition even though it omits many native Czech items composed by Ancerl’s contemporaries. Let’s hope in the enthusiasm for that, this double doesn’t get overlooked. It adds materially to the Ancerl discography, lengthens and deepens his legacy, expands his Dvořákian credentials and gives us a powerful Seventh and a sparking set of Slavonic Dances. I call that value for money.

Jonathan Woolf

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