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CD: AmazonUS

Bedřich SMETANA (1824-1884)
Má Vlast (1874-1879)
Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra/Václav Neumann
rec. no date or venue given. ADD
BERLIN CLASSICS 0014412BC [79:56]
Experience Classicsonline

With so many Ma Vlasts around by Czech orchestras why should the collector opt for one with the Leipzig Gewandhaus? The orchestra has obvious strengths including gloriously rounded sound and technical excellence; attributes retained to this day. That aside, the answer surely comes in the shape of the conductor, Václav Neumann. Neumann was co-founder and first violin of the Smetana Quartet before moving to the rostrum. One can find his recording with the Czech Philharmonic on Supraphon Archive 111958; Neumann’s magnificent DVD of the Dvořák Stabat Mater on Arthaus was a MusicWeb International Recording of the Month in November 2007.
The glorious sound of the Gewandhaus orchestra in full flight at the height of the opening “Vyšehrad” is a joy. The recording has enough body to convey the prevailing warmth of the orchestra as well as to cope with the climax without buckling. The creaminess of the brass towards the end of the movement is a source of pure joy.
“Vltava” - or, as it is known on the back-cover “Die Moldau” - enters a lighter world where flutes cavort, chasing each other without a care in the world. The “peasant dance” - just after four minutes in - has a great deal of joy about it; the music sounds particularly close to Dvořák here. Most impressive is the gossamer web of sound Neumann has his Leipzigers conjure up around the seven-minute mark, a moment of pure blue-skies calm.  “Sarka” could hardly be more different, its basis being the declamatory gesture. Neumann inspires his orchestra to a real sense of fire, especially in the final bars of the movement. “From Bohemia’s Meadows and Forests” (here “Aus Böhmens Hain und Flur”) is most memorable for the woodwind contributions in the quiet sections, truly evocative of a Czech pastoral scene and also for the highly effective reading of the slightly disturbed feel of the music around the five-minute mark. Perhaps full elation is just missed as the music heads unstoppably on towards its conclusion. In this performance, Neumann seems happiest in the moments of mystery, something evinced by the wonderfully shadowy “Tábor”. Here the triumphal lit-from-within statements carry much weight but perhaps not enough glow. Finally, “Blaník” contains moments of lovely lightness, plus, again, some truly spellbinding woodwind contributions - particularly from the solo oboe. The Leipzig orchestra, finally, blazes in the closing passages of the piece.
The down-side of this release is the presentation. Housed in a flimsy card case around a plastic centre, there are no commentating notes and no indication as to the provenance of the recording apart from “P1968 Deutsche Schallplatten Berlin”. Definitely worth hearing nonetheless.
Colin Clarke


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