Bedrich SMETANA (1824-1884)
Má Vlast [75:58] (I. Vyšehrad [14:41] II. Vltava [12:16] III. Šárka [9:44] IV. Z Českych Luhů A Hájů [12:32] V. Tábor [13:09] VI. Blaník [13:39])
Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra/Claus Peter Flor
rec. August 2009, Dewan Filharmonic PETRONAS, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
BIS-SACD-1805 [75:58]

Last month Supraphon issued a new Má Vlast with Jakub Hrůša and the Czech Philharmonic which emphasized broad tempos and lyrical warmth. Now Claus Peter Flor, the Malaysian Philharmonic, and BIS present a contrasting view: this Má Vlast is fast-paced and exciting, played with old-fashioned vigor and dramatic shape.

The difference is especially telling in the first and last movements. Flor shows how the opening harp solo can be taken at a less-than-languid tempo while still rhapsodic in shape; the drama of the central section is especially compelling here, and in BIS’ rich sound the orchestra sounds truly impressive, creating appropriately rather Wagnerian blasts of excitement. The last movement is fast enough that the sheer thrill covers for the repetitive material—although I’m starting to wonder if the repetition of the end of Má Vlast is a bit of a myth, since approaches as diverse as Flor’s and Antoni Wit’s are so good at retaining the listener’s interest. Also particularly riveting is the hyperactive Šárka, though Hrůša has a superior clarinet soloist (and Wit a better one still).

Not everything is perfect. The introduction of the big tune in Vltava is a bit too fast for my taste, although the central nocturne episode is gorgeous and the river rapids sequence is particularly thrilling. At the end of Šárka, the trumpets might be a little too enthusiastic, masking the woodwinds to some extent. A slightly more expansive walk through Bohemia’s Woods and Fields is a good way to dispel the movement’s repetitive pounding, as Hrůša, Wit, and Neumann demonstrate. Still, none of my reservations are enough to prevent me from enjoying the performance from start to finish.

The Malaysian Philharmonic have proven themselves an excellent orchestra in their many BIS recordings, and live up to those standards here. Under Claus Peter Flor, the MPO has an appropriately epic sweep and technicolor brilliance, and dispatch this music with really striking dramatic flair - think Kubelík’s directness rather than Wit’s lush lyricism. BIS’ sound is as full and natural as can be expected; though I did not listen to the SACD layer, I certainly found the results here superior to the rather swimmy, reverberant sonic picture on the recent Hrůša recording. In other words, it’s hard not to recommend this issue, and for the inveterate collector of Má Vlast discs, this album will be a special delight.

Brian Reinhart

A Má Vlast with drama and directness, a great complement to Wit or Hrůša.

Downloads available from