We have, in Vaclav Talich, a real "Great Conductor".
It is a great shame that, due to restrictions placed upon him by the
Czech Government after the Second World War, we have less of his recorded
history than many others.
Talich was largely responsible for the reputation that
the Czech Philharmonic has today, strengthened and polished by his successors,
Kubelik and Ančerl. Talich was appointed
in 1918. By 1924 he was taking the orchestra on concert tours, to let
music lovers hear what a superb instrument the Czech Philharmonic had
become. After the war, when he was out in the cold, he operated out
of Bratislava, where he founded the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra,
and while not endangering the reputation of the "Phil", the Slovak Orchestra
became a formidable band. In the featured excerpt from the Tchaikovsky
Suite No. 4, we have an opportunity to hear what he could achieve from
this then three year old ensemble.
Most of the recordings on this two disc set are from
his last years, after he was rehabilitated, and at last allowed to perform
in front of the Prague music lovers. The recordings are largely done
in the Rudolfinum, Prague’s premier orchestral venue. The hall provides
a lovely acoustic forming a halo over the sound. That halo has become
a Supraphon hallmark over the years.
The only disappointment in this set is the recording
of Mozart’s Symphony No. 33. Although the performance is fine, the live
recording was not done with the same care as the others, and the sound
is a bit primitive. This is very strange, as the performance of Sarka,
made on the day after is a totally different experience. The sound quality
there is quite acceptable and the performance is stunning.
All of the remaining performances have been in and
out of the catalogue over the years, and it is very satisfying to be
able to welcome them back again. I very much hope that this set will
have a long-term presence in the catalogue. With something this good,
it would be criminal if these tapes were to become unavailable again.
My particular favourites in this collection are the
New World (a performance to match the later Ančerl,
also on Supraphon, but in stereo), The Cunning Little Vixen
Suite – prepared by the conductor in order to publicise the opera and
to evangelise it among music lovers, and the Serenade for Strings by
Josef Suk. The joy in the playing is infectious and if you like hearing
the Czech Philharmonic in its home repertoire and hall, you will be
absolutely delighted with this issue. If you are a period performance
addict, you will be turned off somewhat by the Georg Benda Symphony,
as at the time of recording, not much scholarly work had been done on
this repertoire. However, nearly all of the remainder of the programme
is as period accurate as you could wish.
The Czech Philharmonic of the day had its folk rhythms
and rustic Czech woodwind style absolutely in character and in the blood.
You could not wish for a more authentic feel for this repertoire than
we get here.
Full marks to EMI (and IMG) for this issue which should
be of important interest to all who do not already possess these recordings
in earlier releases.
Great Conductors of the 20th Century