Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No.2 in D major Op.36 (1801) [34:17]
Bedrich SMETANA (1824-1884)
Festive Symphony Op.6 — Scherzo only (1854) [10:25]
Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Sinfonietta La Jolla in A for piano and chamber orchestra H328 (1950) [20:11]
Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice/Marko Ivanovic
rec. Pardubice House of Music, 4-6 September 2010
ARCO DIVA UP 0136-2 131 [65:15]

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 Šejna 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 from it?
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 Šejna, 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.
Jonathan Woolf
The Pardubice acquits itself well in Beethoven and there’s a good account of a lovely Martinů work.