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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 - 1791)
Symphony No. 38 Prague in D Major K504 (1786)
Jan Vaclav VORISEK (1791 - 1825)

Symphony in D Major Op. 24 (1821)
Prague Philharmonia, conducted by Jiři Bĕlohlávek
Rec. Domovina Studio, Prague, 17–18 October 2002 and 10–11 March 2003. DDD


Two D Major symphonies with strong relevance to Prague, played by possibly the most recently formed Czech orchestra, conducted by a well known and respected conductor in a modern recording of high quality. How does this issue match up against its competitors?

Supraphon has been very cunning since as far as I am aware there is no identical coupling. Indeed there are relatively few recordings available of the Vorisek, which will probably be the more interesting part of this disc. There is a performance on Hyperion by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under Mackerras, and a Tahra issue, with Karel Ancerl and the Czech Philharmonic, recorded live. None of these however, including this new one, can remove the effect of the very early mono performance by the Prague Chamber Orchestra, which used to be available on an old Supraphon vinyl. That had a spirit about it, which was most engaging, and is missed by nearly all later performances. When is Supraphon going to realize the treasures it has in its old back catalogue?

Bĕlohlávek has probably the finest recording, and his orchestra plays with great spirit in both works. The Prague Philharmonia has been in existence since 1994, was created specifically to play classical works under their founder and chief conductor, Jiři Bĕlohlávek. As Bĕlohlávek is also principal conductor of the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, one wonders how close these two ensembles are.

According to the sleeve note, the Prague Philharmonia has released over 40 CDs for many major labels. I must confess that I have not seen many, if any of them, and I would like to hear more work from this ensemble.

The Mozart, with which the disc starts is first rate with up to date sound taken down in a very life-like acoustic and with playing of great finesse and character. This three movement symphony, premiered in Prague in 1786, was written as a result of an earlier commission from Prague. The Marriage of Figaro had been given its first performance in Prague some time before his visit to the city, and due to its success, the composer was given a tremendous welcome by audiences there. Mozart was commissioned to write another opera; this was to become Don Giovanni. In addition he was given the opportunity to stage a concert in Prague. It was at this that the present symphony received its first performance.

Vorisek considered Beethoven his guide, rather than Mozart. He had a short life dying from tuberculosis at the very early age of 34. He was court organist in Vienna and enjoyed a high reputation in that city. His D major symphony is highly original and is the work by which he is generally remembered. It is well structured, impeccably scored, and to those, like me who enjoy Czech music is full of those lovely rhythmic twists that the Czechs seem to do so well. The performance is very good, although the conductor and orchestra make a heavy weather of the delectable slow movement. The rest of the symphony is played beautifully, and I wouldn’t let my comments about the slow movement put you off, as it is a very minor concern. A very enjoyable disc.

John Phillips

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