Zoltán KODÁLY (1882-1967)
Dances of Galanta (1933) [16:30]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra in A major K622 (1791) [27:07]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No.8 in F major Op.93 (1812) [26:15]
Jan Mach (clarinet)
Prague Symphony Orchestra/Jirí Kout
rec. live, 8-9 September 2010, Smetana Hall, Prague
FOK 0003-2 031 [70:21]
Though one likes to swank around in foreign languages from time to time — who doesn’t relish a diacritical or an umlaut now and then? — on this occasion it’s a good thing that the Symfonický orchestr hl. m. Prahy FOK is better known internationally as the Prague Symphony Orchestra. In case you are wondering, the orchestra, founded in 1934 by Rudolf Pekárek, had quite a wide remit, hence the acronym FOK which stands for ‘Film-Opera-Koncert’. The biggest name associated with the orchestra, and one who was associated with it for decades, was the great conductor Václav Smetáček. But Jirí Belohlávek directed it for over a decade and many important Czech and Slovak conductors have led it, not least Martin Turnovský and Ladislav Slovák. So it has a prestigious history and continues to perform widely, and to record.
Its current director is Jirí Kout, a fine musician, with an acute ear across national boundaries. There’s no native music in this disc. The notes make clear that this is a live recording or at least recordings because two dates are given, the second of which I assume is a repeat performance or, more likely, a patch session. What the notes don’t tell you, but I can via internet sleuthing, is that this was the first concert of the FOK’s — it’s catching — 2010/11 season. So this disc is a kind of celebratory affair.
One has to exercise caution here because, and one has to be hard-hearted about this sort of thing, exactly who is going to be interested in this programme? Kodály’s Galanta Dances are standard fare, a recording of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto is going to have to be very special to tempt buyers, and as for the Eighth Symphony of Beethoven, where exactly does one begin? These, I’m afraid, are the obvious ramifications of marketing a disc such as this, and what may make a pleasing concert in the Municipal House in Prague, is going to be of precisely no interest to the general record buyer.
The performances are pleasing. They’re not at all sensational. You won’t confuse Kout or the FOK with, say, Antal Dorati, or even Ivan Fischer in the Dances. The music is pleasantly swung, though there’s a slight lack of heft in the strings. There’s an important role for the clarinet principal and the commitment level is palpable throughout all sections of the orchestra. The FOK’s principal clarinetist since 2006 turns out to be Jan Mach and he walks to the front of the stage to perform the Mozart. His tone is mellifluous and rounded, and his tempo instincts are unimpeachable. Again it’s a solid, attractive, sensitive performance. And so too is the Beethoven, in its way. If you contrast Kout with Mackerras, himself a Prague regular, you will notice that the outer movements are much lither in the hands of the Anglo-Australian. Then, too, the ‘hard stick’ percussion is more biting with Mackerras, and so is string stratification and delineation. The more patrician Kout evokes Pastoral symphony elements, which I happen to find attractive, and he prefers a more leisurely approach with a heavier, more ‘massy’ string tone. Kout is actually far quicker in the scherzo, Mackerras more stately, producing, arguably, more of a danceable Minuet.
So, maybe a tempter for fans of orchestra, soloist and/or conductor, but really it’s not possible to recommend this disc beyond that constituency.
Jonathan Woolf
Maybe a tempter for fans of these artists but really it’s not possible to recommend this disc beyond that constituency.