Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony No.6 in D major Op.60 B. 112 (1880) [44:24]
Josef SUK (1874-1935)
Sokol March Op.35c (Into a New Life) (1919-20) [6:04]
Serenade for String Orchestra in E flat major Op.6 (1892) [28:07]
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Václav Talich
rec. November 1938, EMI Abbey Road, Studio No.1, London
NAXOS 8.112050 [78:35]
Naxos has already issued its transfers of, amongst other things, Talich’s pre-War recordings of the Seventh and Eighth Symphonies and Slavonic Dances (see review). Now comes the Sixth, which exists in only this traversal, as he wasn’t asked to record it in the studios in the 1950s and no surviving broadcast is known. The Czech Philharmonic was on tour in Britain at the time, and decamped to Abbey Road to set down a portfolio of discs.
For lissom and curvaceous allure, for a protean unravelling of the work’s more folkloric hues, and for interpretative insight, it still takes some beating. The arresting peaks of the first movement are securely anchored by a firmly nourished bass line and one listens to the wind principals for their raptly individualist contributions. Vladimír Říha, the great clarinettist, is prominent here, but so too are the strings, led with malleable expressivity and springing rhythm by Alexander Plocek - who made on 78s one of the greatest recordings of the Janáček Sonata - and alongside him his colleague Egon Ledeč. The tender string line of the slow movement and the subsequent folkloric episodes are all delineated and characterised with great affection. Listen out for the cantabile from around 4:30 with its warmth and yearning. Listen out as well for oboist Josef Deda, first flute Karel Hanzl and for the sheer allure and unforced richness of the individual and corporate sonority of an orchestra in prime form. In the scherzo one can hear Karel Bidlo’s bassoon chuckling and chattering away, but he is just one amidst a phalanx of tone colourists supreme. The noble textures of the finale, the quizzical flurry of wind writing, and the splendid race to the finish conclude a reading of total dedication, assurance, technical eloquence and interpretative richness. Talich is the fulcrum, the animating spirit that releases this buoyant musicality.
The sessions also gave us Suk’s Serenade which Talich returned to in 1951. This has rather more obvious portamenti than the symphony, attesting to its more sentimental side. Diminuendi are marvellously calibrated and there is a full complement of grazioso in the second movement. The slow movement is played with huge affection and warmth and tonal beauty. The pirouetting two-violin figure toward the end (Plocek and Ledeč) was actually suggested by Talich to Suk, who incorporated this delightful idea. The final work is the Sokol March (Into a New Life) which has apparently, according to Mark Obert-Thorn’s note and to my amazement, never been reissued since on LP or CD. It’s Talich’s only recording of it, and for all that it’s a zesty, optimistic affair written in the wake of the establishment of Czechoslovakia as a democratic entity, it also reveals hugely well-drilled corporate responses.
Finally let me note the high number of first takes selected for issue at the time. Only two sides of the Symphony utilised a second take.
The Sixth has recently appeared on Opus Kura, but I’ve not had access to it for comparative purposes. Obert-Thorn’s transfers for Naxos however prove accomplished, and Tully Potter’s sleeve-note is one of his best.
I know some people are put off by recordings of this vintage but really, let’s be frank, they’re ill. This disc would speedily bring them back to sanity, and to reinvigorated life.
Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Brian Reinhart
Talich is the fulcrum, the animating spirit that releases buoyant musicality.