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Golden Age singers

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If it’s the Czech works you’re after, do not hesitate

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Piano Concerto in G minor, Op. 33/B63a (1876) [38’20]
Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104/B191b (1895) [42’25].
aMartin Kasík (piano); bJiří Bárta (cello)
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/ aJiří Kout, bJiří Bělohlávek.
Rec. live Dvořák Hall, Rudolfinum, Prague, aSeptember 9th, 2003; bMay 2nd, 2004. DDD
Includes videos for Windows PC Real Player
SUPRAPHON SU3774-2 [38’20 + 42’25]


 

A lovely coupling of two glowing concertos. Interestingly, this live recording of the Piano Concerto captures Martin Kasík’s debut with the Czech Philharmonic. It is also his first disc for Supraphon. The ‘video’ element is a bit gimmicky – the musical truth lies in the complete recorded performance, after all – but they indicate Supraphon’s seriousness of intent.

Dvořák’s Piano Concerto is a tricky piece, and not only because of the composer’s slightly clumsy way with piano writing. It is one of those works that in great hands will make one wonder why it is not a repertoire regular (Richter does this). In the wrong hands it can seem diffuse and even long-winded.

Kasík’s is, perhaps predictably, a young man’s performance, and in this Kout and the Czech Philharmonic mirror his bravura. The orchestra is ardent and fresh and therefore not as intense as Kleiber for Richter. In particular, listen to the very opening phrase, which begins like an inhalation - perhaps of Czech country air? There is a distinctly bright and breezy aspect to this Allegro. One would not necessarily guess the ‘agitato’ qualifier listening blind. Horns and woodwind are eminently geographically identifiable in their rusticity. As for Kasík, he is more than just technically sound, he possesses just the fluency that this music needs. He does not yet have that breadth of utterance. That knowledge about how to lay out an extended structure and the knowledge of extended experience. It will however come to him. Meantime the piano’s initial entrance is somewhat literal, and separated from the orchestra’s preceding movements rather than emerging naturally from them. Aimard (Royal Concertgebouw/Harnoncourt, Teldec 8573 87630-2) excels here.

The slow movement (an Andante sostenuto) begins with a gorgeously creamy horn solo with just a touch of that Czech vibrato, leading to a more unbuttoned Kasík. There is a real sense of fantasy here, and in the sudden outbursts one can hear Kasík exploring the possibilities. Unfortunately the piano’s final gestures, so characterful with Richter, here are merely approachable.

The finale begins somewhat awkwardly from the pianist, the repeated note too close to a stutter for comfort; yet the more fantastical elements later are lovingly dwelt-upon. There are some technical slips; it is live, after all, but you should be warned. A fair head of steam propels the performance towards the finishing line. The applause is rightly retained but this finale emerges as structurally diffuse.

An interesting performance but not a first choice. One’s library should include both Richter and Aimard, ideally. Interestingly, there is another new version on Chandos that couples this work with the Violin Concerto (soloists being Rustem Hayroudinoff and James Ehnes, respectively). The Chandos performance is around the same place in the pecking order as the Supraphon, the latter perhaps having the edge because of the authentic Czech sound.

The Cello Concerto brings us to altogether more crowded territory. BBCSO Principal Conductor Designate Jiří Bělohlávek is in charge. He takes up the position properly on the occasion of the First Night of the Proms this year (2005). He is an unfailingly musical conductor. The opening of the slow movement, with its beautifully balanced wind chords, is but one of many indictaors that bode well for his UK-based activities.

Jiří Bárta’s earthy and gritty entrance sees him marking out his territory in no uncertain terms. He is close-miked, which adds to this impression. He is prone to languish though (the excesses of youth?) and in a similar nod to his state of maturity he relishes the more virtuosic elements. The ‘live’ element was doubtless a contributory factor here …

The orchestra can blaze out triumphally at times in the slow movement but it is in the finale that everything clicks. There is urgency implied in the opening, with the tramp of lower strings and the violent horn accent. Barta’s articulation in this movement is excellent, and the expansive cello melody at 6’30 has a very human warmth about it. His high range sings at times, too. By the end of the performance, Barta had won this reviewer over.

Neither of these performances will become first choices but it is clear from this set that the young generation of Czech soloists is a remarkably strong one.

Colin Clarke



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