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alternatively Crotchet

Bedřich SMETANA (1824-1884)
Dalibor (sung in English) (1868, revised 1870 and 1878)
Vladislav – Gwyn Griffiths (baritone)
Dalibor – Robert Jones (tenor)
Budivoj – Gordon Farrall (baritone)
Beneš – Don Garrard (bass)
Vitek – Joseph Ward (tenor)
Milada – Pauline Tinsley (soprano)
Jitka – April Cantelo (soprano)
Judge – Harold Lumb (bass)
BBC Orchestra and Chorus/Vilem Tauský
rec. 31 August 1969. ADD.
GALA GL 100.785 [76:22 + 73:52]

This is a welcome souvenir of Tauský’s Czech operatic work. But for reasons that will almost immediately become apparent a souvenir is all it will have to remain. It also documents a singer who was otherwise lamentably treated by the record companies of the time but whose live performances show her to have been a searingly impressive talent – Pauline Tinsley. Other stalwarts of the time are happily present, especially April Cantelo and Joseph Ward though Gala really must do more biographically in its notes. There’s something about Don Garrard who takes the small role of Beneš but nothing at all about the Vladislav, Gwyn Griffiths, nor even about the singer who takes the title role, Robert Jones. This is something of an injustice, to put it mildly.
Tauský did a huge amount to further the cause of operatic and symphonic music in Britain. He gave twenty-six opera and operetta premieres throughout his long career, the last at the age of eighty-four which was, rather amazingly, Smetana’s The Brandenburgers in Bohemia – not professionally premiered in Britain until 1994. I hope that some trace of his complete Martinů symphonic cycle – again a first in his adopted country – has survived.
The subject under discussion though is Dalibor. It was recorded with BBC forces in 1969. I’m not sure where the recording derives from but it’s congested and muddied in sound quality. To be utterly frank it’s not easy to understand a word the singers are saying – and they’re singing in English. The Chorus is simply an amorphous mass of weight. The same is very much true of the orchestral sound-stage. You really can’t hear the percussion in the orchestral introduction to the first Act – and the muddiness extends right throughout the orchestra.
The singing is very variable. Cantelo is a reliable indeed impressive presence though she’s not as penetrating a singer as the best of the Czechs – Hanna Svobodova-Janku for instance who sings for Krombholc in the Supraphon Prague National Theatre recording made the year before this Tauský performance. Griffiths is quite a light voiced Vladislav and lacks the oratorical weight of Jindrák in that same recording – he’s not sufficiently regally penetrating though he carries off the bluffness well enough. In the title role Jones proves a pliant rather than an assertive Dalibor. His is more the lyric tenor than the kind ideally required; you really need Přibyl in this kind of role, one he appropriated for many years, with his powerful command and self-confidence. Don Garrard is rather buffo-ish in his role as Beneš. It’s Tinsley who proves to have the most volatile and sure operatic instincts in this role. She’s as unintelligible as the others but in her case allowance can be made even though I still prefer the greater tang of Kniplová and Depoltová in this kind of role.
Gala has been active in restoring vintage British operatic performances. This one has rather more limitations than others I’ve heard and will be a niche purchase.
Jonathan Woolf


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