In his review
of a previous release by these forces, Rob Barnett avoided contortions
to rationalise the programme — Beethoven’s First Symphony, Martinů’s
Concerto for oboe and Small Orchestra and Kabelac’s Symphony
No.4 in A Camerata. This latest disc wears a similar
look, though less adventurous perhaps, but I feel I need to
add a caveat. Great was the reviewer’s excitement when he spied
that we would hear Smetana’s Festive Symphony. I only
wondered about two things; would it get close to the classic
ejna recording of 1967, and what sort of lick would the
orchestra have to go to fit it in alongside Beethoven’s Second
Symphony and Martinů’s Sinfonietta La Jolla? Well, great
was his disappointment when he opened the booklet to find that
he would actually only get the Scherzo from the Symphony. So,
whilst I appreciate that this disc is a showcase for the chamber
orchestra, with a major Beethovenian symphonic statement balanced
by the Sinfonietta and added pep provided by the extract from
the Festive, nevertheless I think it’s a missed opportunity.
Wouldn’t we prefer the Festive in full, rather than a movement
As before though, the Pardubice chamber orchestra acquits itself
well in Beethoven, if without quite the maturity and rhythmic
insight provided by, say, Charles Mackerras in his survey of
the complete symphonies, majorly with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.
I rather miss the ‘hard stick’ percussion that gave such dynamism
and crispness to Mackerras’s attacks, as well as the sense of
kinetic nervousness and energy that drives the music forward.
And so, after all that expectation, how does Marko Ivanovic’s
reading of the Festive Symphony Scherzo measure up? A bit portly
and slack after ejna, unfortunately. It lacks swing and
verve, and rhythms are far too ponderous.
However this band has a track record with the Sinfonietta La
Jolla. Back in the days when it was known as the Pardubice State
Chamber Orchestra — it’s now the Czech Chamber Philharmonic
Orchestra Pardubice (can you be a Chamber Philharmonic? Why
not pick one or the other?) — it recorded the work for Panton
in 1983 (LP; 8110 0369) with pianist Zdenek Hnát, conducted
by ex-fiddle player Libor Hlaváček. You may recall his
fine Mozart concerto accompaniments for Josef Suk with the Prague
Chamber Orchestra. Perhaps predictably this performance is a
distinct cut above the rest. It reminds me very strongly of
Hlaváček’s in a number of places, and shares with his recording
a sense of nervous anticipation, aerated textures and a well
balanced piano. The percussion can be a bit timid, perhaps,
and this new reading misses something of the mystery of the
central Largo, certainly when measured against its earlier recording.
Tempi are slower this time around too. Nevertheless it’s a good
account of a lovely work.