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Bedřich SMETANA (1824-1884)
Má Vlast (1874-1879) [76:29]
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Libor Pešek
rec. Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, May 1989
VIRGIN CLASSICS 5221292 [76:29]


Experience Classicsonline

A number of Virgin Classics reissues have come my way recently and of them a few were by the Liverpool/Pešek team. Whether it’s the nature of the repertoire or his having been associated with it for so long I find the conductor more electric in repertoire he doesn’t usually conduct. This, for me, means Suk and sometimes Novak. But I wish someone would get him in the recording studio and allow him to explore the contemporary Czech repertoire as he did when he was a young man and as he did so conspicuously well. Or even to tackle the kind of works that Ančerl did in his later years - Miloslav Kabeláč say or Jan Hanuš.

Well for now it’s a reissue of a hoary old favourite, one that he re-recorded in Prague six years or so after this Liverpool traversal of Má Vlast. When I reviewed his last three Dvořák symphonies, also taped in Liverpool, I felt no more than lukewarm about them. I feel more positive about this cycle but not really enough to make a meaningful recommendation.

For one thing the Virgin recording team still had a tendency to a certain cloudiness, a rather opaque sound stage which blunts the tuttis somewhat. Greater clarity wouldn’t have hindered things. True the harp is nicely forward in Vyšehrad and the trumpets play with well-sprung attacks. But things do hang fire just a little, something becalmed in the rhythmic profile of the music making that afflicted those Dvořák performances. In Vltava the rapids are genuinely exciting but again things tend to sag along the river journey. The wedding is pleasing but as we approach the climax there’s a want of adrenalin, a lack of real rhythmic pointing, of inner brio. It’s all a little sanguine. I needn’t cite Kubelík, Talich, Ančerl, Jeremias and all the rest.

Bohemia’s Woods and Forests could also do with the kind of heart stopping beauty that Talich brought to it, in his different ways, on each of his three recorded performances. I’ve always loved the playing of it in the immediate post-war but sadly incomplete Czech Philharmonic cycle on 78 from Kubelík, though this is a niche point I admit. Tábor and Blaník, the two most difficult and problematic movements come across well – unsurprising when one considers that they are the least often played and never separately.

All this duly noted there will still be only a rather limited market for this 1989 Má Vlast.

Jonathan Woolf

see also Review by Simon Thompson



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