Fans of Czech music and music-making will remember the name
of Zdenek Koŝler with admiration. There aren’t many live
performances available of his work — indeed there are fewer
studio recordings than his talent clearly merited—so it’s good
news that this 1967 concert, given by the touring Prague Symphony,
has been preserved. Koŝler (1928-1995) was principal conductor
of the orchestra between 1966 and 1967, a period during which
he also directed the Komische Oper n East Berlin.
This was a distinguished period in his career and his programme
was chosen, one assumes, to appeal both for its promotion of
a great Czech symphony and also to demonstrate his handling
of the Strauss tone poem.
His Tod und Verklärung gains in amplitude and expressive
depth, Koŝler reserving the longest of lines for the work’s
moving culminatory pages. Earlier he is plangent and the wind
playing is notably communicative. Sometimes there is a want
of atmosphere, certainly if one judges him against, say, Kempe,
but tension is incrementally ratcheted with assurance. There’s
a drop out on the tape at around 7:13.
Surprisingly it’s the Dvorák Symphony which is the more personalised
and the less successful performance. Koŝler’s approach
is very expansive in the slow movement and finale, whereas he
takes relatively conventional tempi in the opening Allegro
and the Allegretto. The distinctive Prague Symphony winds
are on show in the opening movement, and the fine violas and
cellos too. But the Adagio does trudge. It is precisely
punctuated, however, and develops a curiously questioning quality—reserved,
nervous; at points quasi-operatic—which I take it is the conductor’s
narrative approach. The melancholy is pervasive, but for me
there’s a dogged quality that mires this movement. The Scherzo
is well taken—one recalls that many years later Charles Mackerras
recorded the symphony with this orchestra for Supraphon and
Koŝler is his equal here, if a touch ‘straight’. The finale
returns to the earlier deliberate tempo. It means that transitions
can be a bit heavy booted, though the dreamy final pages are
This is a considered but highly personal view of the symphony.
It’s certainly fascinating to hear, though I suspect many will
reject the expansive tempo and phrasal decision making. I was
certainly very glad to hear it, and found its stance thought-provoking
though not ultimately convincing.
The recording has been well realised. The sound spectrum is
pretty good, the lower strings and winds coming through with
fidelity, the solo violin/wind pirouetting passage in the slow
movement both well balanced and well caught by the microphone.
There are however some drop outs, especially at the start of
the first movement. They do pass quickly.
Masterwork Index: Dvorak
Symphony 8 ~~ Tod