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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Violin Concerto op.53 (1879) [33:01]
(I: Allegro ma non troppo [10:20]; 2. II: Adagio ma non troppo [11:39]; 3. III: Finale – Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo [11:02])
Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)

Violin Concerto, op.14 (1939) [22:45]
(I: Allegro [10:37]; II: Andante [8:18]; III: Presto in moto perpetuo [3:50])
Martin Válek (violin)
Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra/Vladimir Válek
Czech Radio recording (no further details available)
CESKY ROZHLAS UP0082-2 231 [55:58]

It’s hard to work out why the Dvořák Violin Concerto has failed to establish itself in the repertoire to quite the extent of other romantic concertos by Brahms, Tchaikovsky or Bruch for example. It is tuneful, splendidly written for an instrument the composer played well (though he probably preferred to play the viola) and entirely typical of its Czech creator. However, there are signs that it is now being recognised for the glorious work it is, and here is another fine recording, this time by a notable young Czech performer.

Unusually, Martin Válek – an interesting musician who also indulges, we are told, in jazz and punk – has his father, Vladimir, as conductor on this CD. There is no doubt that there is a thoroughly harmonious partnership here between father and son, and that is of some importance in a piece in which the orchestral part is so full of detail, and into which the solo part is often integrated in an almost concertante manner. The finale, with its furiant rhythms, is probably the most successful and memorable movement, and seems to bring out the best in the performers. The orchestra find the right ‘village-band’ sound for its episodes, and Válek junior shows great sensitivity, allowing, for example the delicious version of the main theme in the low flutes around 9:30 (track 3) to come through with complete clarity.

The other two movements fare well enough too, though for my money, the lovely Adagio ma non troppo needs just a little more sense of space than it is given here. On the other hand, the contributions from the wind soloists in the Prague Symphony Orchestra are sensitive, with beautiful shaping of individual lines in flute, oboe and bassoon. Overall, a stylish and tasteful performance of the work rather than one to persuade one to fall madly in love with it.

What of the Barber? Here’s another piece that has begun to appear more regularly in concert programmes and in CD catalogues in recent years, owing to outstanding modern recordings such as that of Joshua Bell, and the reissue of Isaac Stern’s première recording of 1964. Again, the Váleks, with their Prague musicians, provide a musical and thoughtful rather than intoxicating performance. But I certainly don’t wish to damn with faint praise, and there are many lovely things to relish, such as the jaunty orchestral tutti at the climax of the first movement (track 4, around 5:20), the impassioned appearance of the Andante’s main theme in the solo violin (track 5 4:30), or the splashes of piano and woodwind tone in the frenetic finale.

All these and more are picked up faithfully in the excellent recording, even though I failed to track down any information on the case or in the booklet about exactly where and when the sessions were held. If the coupling of these two lovely concertos is for you, then you won’t go far wrong with this issue.

Gwyn Parry-Jones


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