A Musical Journey: Czech Republic - Castles and towns in Bohemia
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Horn concertos nos.1 in D major, K.412 (1791) [8:46]; 2 in E flat
major, K.417 (1783) [13:29]; 3 in E flat major, K.447 (c.1784-1787)
[14:51]; 4 in E flat major, K.495 (1786) [15:45]
Miloš Števove (horn)
Capella Istropolitana/Jozef Kopelman
rec. Concert Hall of the Slovak Philharmonic, Bratislava, November
This has been my first encounter with one of Naxos’s travelogue DVDs and I have to confess that the prospect left me initially bemused. Is this supposed to be primarily an opportunity to see some perhaps unfamiliar locations, with the music acting as a pleasant – and, one hopes, appropriate – accompaniment? Or is the music to be the main focus of the exercise, with the film clips offering some pleasant visual diversion along the way?
The answer is, I think, the second. The booklet notes by the indefatigable Keith Anderson devote rather more space to the music than to the castles. Moreover, while we see plenty of pretty images on the screen they are presented with absolutely no background information – not even a simple caption – to help us make sense of, or even know, what we are looking at.
So let’s consider the musical performances first. Capella Istropolitana was one of the very earliest of Naxos’s regular orchestras and these particular recordings have been around for a couple of decades. They nevertheless still sound pretty impressive. The engineers have placed soloist Miloš Števove well forward of the orchestra and he plays with complete technical assurance and with great spirit. His is a most enjoyable account and he is well supported by the orchestra under Kopelman.
Mozart’s music was, it goes without saying, an excellent match for film images of Bohemia and Moravia and the horn, with its obvious association with hunting and the countryside, makes a good choice of instrument to accompany shots of the beautiful Czech landscape. It must be said, though, that there is little attempt to “match” the music with specific visuals: an obvious instance does occur when a rather crude image of some sort of wind instrument from a castle mural is shown during a particularly florid bit of Števove’s horn playing – but that sort of thing proves to be the exception rather than the rule. In general, we are offered lots of slow pans and quite a few long-held shots that one would swear were still photographs until, for instance, a bird flutters across the corner of the screen. Human beings are notably absent, except in Telc( town square where the locals are found going about their daily business.
Thankfully, when this film was made there were no camera-toting tourists in the area, even though anyone who’s visited the Czech Republic will know that the whole country is full of great photographic opportunities: Prague, in particular, was virtually undamaged in the Second World War as the German army had simply marched in unopposed, whereas, to take two other examples, Warsaw and Budapest both lost much of their old character in bombing and shelling. While every modern tourist has probably visited Prague Castle and the Charles Bridge, far fewer, I should think have ever heard of - let alone passed through the gates of - the attractive locations that feature on this DVD. Hluboká castle (see here) is an example of 19th century Czech Gothic Revival with large parts being modelled on, of all things, Windsor castle in the UK. We then go on to see the well-stocked armoury and the hunting-trophy room - to be fast-forwarded through if stuffed birds don’t appeal - at Konopište( castle (see here), the sometime residence of Archduke Franz Ferdinand whose assassination at Sarajevo in 1914 precipitated the First World War.
The quaint old town of Telc( (see here) offers plenty of picturesque images, even if one of the residents refused to take in the washing that they’d draped over the town square’s historic façade during filming. Telc( castle (see here) is of lesser visual interest, perhaps, but that it more than made up for by what we see of the spectacularly sited Vranov castle (see here). If there’s one thing that anyone tends to recall from school about Czech history, it’s that the natives seemed terribly prone to punishing unpopular politicians by “defenestration”: throwing them out of high windows. Vranov castle, would, believe me, be an ideal location for just that sort of national pastime.
Much of Bohemia and Moravia remains largely unknown to tourists other than the Germans, for whom the region is something of a favourite spot for a weekend break. Only last year I thought I was being pretty adventurous in hiring a car and exploring the pretty old town of Melnik, twenty-odd miles north of Prague at the junction of the Elbe and Vltava rivers. Thanks to Naxos, though, I’ve now got several new destinations in mind for my next trip – and, with any luck, I’ll be much more likely in future to associate Mozart’s fourth horn concerto with beautiful Bohemian castles than with Flanders and Swann (see here).