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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Modest Petrovich MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Pictures at an Exhibition, orch RAVEL (1874, orch 1922)
A Night on the Bare Mountain, orch RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1867, orch 1880)
Nicolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Capriccio Espagnol (1887)
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY

Capriccio Italien (1880)
Czech PO/Karel Ančerl
rec Dvořák Hall, Rudolfinum, Prague, 3 June 1968 (Pictures); 4 June 1968 (Mountain); 1 Dec 1964 (Espagnol); 14-15 Jan 1965 (Italien) AAD
SUPRAPHON 11 1943-2 011 [72.05]
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Ančerl's tenure with the Czech PO began in 1950, succeeding Talich. In the following eighteen years, which ended with the Russian occupation and his flight to Toronto, Ančerl (1908-1973) recorded extensively for the state record company, Supraphon, reaching the height of activity during the 1960s. Those LPs carried his name far and wide within the then Warsaw Pact brotherhood and across the Western world. This vinyl diaspora prepared the ground for his Canadian late summer and a handful of recordings with CBC. At the same time it provided an opportunity for various Western critics to sneer at poor translations and misprints in the sleeve-notes. This easy sport distracted attention from some riotously inventive and whipcrack performances. I hope we are beyond that now and can focus on the performances and the music.

The very analogue tapes that fuelled the Czech LP explosion of the 'sixties have been systematically transferred onto CD by Supraphon. This is one example.

Conductor and orchestra were at their gritty and snappy best in the music of the early part of the last century and the late nineteenth century. Strengths are well to the fore in the unhurried but metronomically emphatic Baba Yaga of Pictures. The weaker link comes with the brass playing, especially the trumpet which sounds splintery. The woodwind have a distinctive Gallic warble; the horns likewise: listen to them in The Old Castle.

With these perfectly listenable recordings you must not expect perfection. They lack the aural amplitude we take for granted in more modern recordings and you will notice this when you come to The Great Gate of Kiev which Ančerl paces and grades with enviable freshness. The recordings are in no sense primitive but radiate a raw and slightly bitter vividness.

That rawness also races through that other collaborative effort: Night on the Bare Mountain. Aggression, deliberation and precision characterise this recording. The woodwind are distinctive: chuckling, vinegary, liquid. If you know Talich's leering and chuckling flutes and clarinets in his Suk Asrael Symphony you will know what to expect. The two Caprices make acceptable fillers evincing the same qualities as the Mussorgsky works. The string playing in the Tchaikovsky warhorse is spellbinding and showing more savour than the Rozhdestvensky (Brilliant Classics) recently reviewed here.

Russian warhorses from the Czech Phil and Ančerl during their heyday. Not a first choice in audio terms but anything but bland.

Rob Barnett

 


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