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
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.