The strings' careful, almost finicky
etching of the opening
motif indicates that Ančerl's Fifth
won't be for everyone. The conductor
presumably intended to steer a middle
course between Toscaninian volatility
and traditional Germanic weightiness.
There's sufficient impulse and drive
- and the horns sound wonderfully
full in the back-and-forth wind chords
of the development - but more tonal
heft was really needed to bring off
so moderate an Allegro pace.
The players, who press ahead on several
occasions, don't sound entirely convinced.
The Andante is more winning from
the start: the string theme is dusky
and alluring, the martial bits contrast
with it sharply, and the transitions
between the two are suitably mysterious.
Only the woodwinds' too-even accenting
at 6.52 and the watery bassoon solo
at 8.27 mar the effect. The bass accents
in the Scherzo's introductory
phrases are cushioned rather than stabbing,
after which the horns' theme strides
forth, ominous and inexorable. The Finale,
played without repeat, is firm and confident,
marked by terrifying trombone outbursts.
Elsewhere among the winds, the principal
clarinet is pleasantly woody; the oboes
add a nice tang to chords, but the principal
is plagued with a wheezy vibrato.
The G major concerto
begins unpromisingly with clunky, tubby
piano chords - perhaps a flaw
in the otherwise ambient monaural recording,
since Páleníček injects bright,
pearly articulations later in his solid,
meat-and-potatoes reading. In any case,
the strings' trim, buoyant response
brings things to life, ushering in a
firmly shaped, well-balanced
ritornello that exemplifies this
orchestra at its best. In the Andante
con moto, the string octaves are
gaunt and stark; the piano's hushed
answering chorales are nicely inflected,
though again unflatteringly reproduced.
The Rondo sizzles: the lyric
episodes are broadly phrased "over the
barlines", the better to play off the
main theme's sharper rhythmic profile.
recorded later in a less favourable
venue, isn't much of a bonus. Oistrakh
spins a clean enough line, but his dry
sound and characteristic intensity militate
against the tonal purity and sweetness
that would make these phrases soar.
And here the orchestral sonority is
subject to mid-range break-up.
aside the indicated tribute to Ančerl,
the purpose of this reissue eludes
me. The choice of works as such constitutes
a pleasing program, but none of the
performances quite stands out in its
own right. As always, interest inheres
in the distinctive Czech Philharmonic
sound, but the orchestra remade all
of these pieces for stereo with different
conductors, and those would be the versions
to seek out or, more likely, hunt down.
Oistrakh, too, comes off better in his
stereo Romances on DG, though
the Grumiaux (Philips) versions reign