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Rafael Kubelík - Complete Masterpieces
List of contents at end of review
DOCUMENTS 600038 [10 CDs: 555:17]

Rafael Kubelik - son of the great Czech violinist Jan Kubelik - was chief conductor of, amongst others, the Czech Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and, from 1961 to 1979, the Bavarian Radio Symphony. He made numerous recordings with the last of these, almost all of superb musical quality. This box consists of earlier recordings with a variety of orchestras. Nonetheless it gives a fine overview of his manner with the music in which he excelled.
His conducting of Mahler is not to everyone’s taste. Its avoidance of exaggeration and excess is perhaps at the opposite pole from Bernstein’s more obviously emotional approach. For me it is at least equally valid and is certainly much more to my personal taste. The two Symphonies included here are however the least satisfactory items in this box, more on sonic than musical grounds. I have not heard their earlier issues so I am unclear as to what is responsible for the very poor sound in No. 5, in particular. If you can adjust to this the performances do have much to offer although little that is not done at least as well by Kubelik elsewhere.
The third disc is however much better. This version of the New World may not be to everyone’s taste - the surprisingly swift slow movement does take some getting used to - but once past the surprise it becomes wholly convincing and it is in much better sound than the Mahler. The same applies to the other Chicago recordings. All are bright - but not excessively so - well balanced and clear. Nothing gets in the way of enjoying the conductor’s ability to characterise the very different pieces by Mussorgsky, Hindemith and above all Smetana. I suspect that his later recording with the Czech Philharmonic will be in the collections or at least the memories of many readers but this is by no means obviously inferior.
The British recordings here are amongst the highlights of the set. The two Concertos show Kubelik’s ability to work creatively with the two excellent soloists, and the imposing performance of the Prague Symphony is wholly convincing. It is good to have examples of his work with the Czech Philharmonic even if the Martinů symphony does sound its age. The other items are better in this respect although I am surprised at the date given for the recording of the Sinfonietta (1955) as I had understood that Kubelik had left Czechoslovakia before that. I lack more reliable information on this point. There is indeed a total lack of any notes or further documentation with this set and this may reduce its appeal to those unfamiliar with the conductor’s work. That is regrettable as the contents are almost all very well worth hearing and the set would be an admirable introduction to the work of one of the most humane and instinctively musical conductors of his time.  

John Sheppard

Masterwork Index    
Bartok concerto for orchestra Brahms piano concerto 1 Bruch violin concerto 1
Dvorak symphony 9 Mahler symphony 1 Mahler symphony 5
Mozart symphony 38 Mussorgsky Pictures at an exhibition  

List of contents

CD 1 [65:00]
Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No. 5 in C sharp minor [65:00]
Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam; rec. 1951
CD 2 [49:38]
Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)

Symphony No. 1 in D major [49:38]
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; rec. 1954
CD 3 [50:22]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony No. 9 in E minor From the New World [38:10]
Chicago Symphony Orchestra; rec. 1951
Slavonic Rhapsody in A flat major Op. 45 No. 3 [12:07]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; rec. 1959
CD 4 [50:48]
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)

Concerto for Orchestra Sz 116 [37:25]
Deux Portraits Op. 5 [13:19]
Stephen Staryk (violin); Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; rec. 1959
CD 5 [59:07]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor Op 15 [47:52]

Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream [11:08]
Solomon (piano); Philharmonia Orchestra; rec. 1952
CD 6 [52:03]
Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)

Symphony No. 4 H305 [31:52]
Concerto for two string orchestras, piano and drum [20:06]
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra; rec. 1948 and 1950
CD 7 [53:58]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Pictures at an Exhibition (orch. Ravel) [28:46]
Chicago Symphony Orchestra; rec. 1951
Leoš JAN
ÁČEK (1854-1928)
Sinfonietta [25:12]
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra; rec. 1955
CD 8 [76:18]
Bedřich SMETANA (1824-1884)
Má Vlast [76:18]
Chicago Symphony Orchestra; rec. 1952
CD 9 [61:18]
Max BRUCH (1838-1920)
Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor Op. 26 [24:18]
Ida Haendel (violin); Philharmonia Orchestra; rec. 1948
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)

Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber [20:18]
Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)

Five Pieces for Orchestra Op. 16 [16:51]
Chicago Symphony Orchestra; rec. 1953
CD 10 [46:45]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Symphony No 38 in D major “Prague” K504 [23:42]
Don Giovanni K527 [6:16]
Die Entführung aus dem Serail K384 [5:18]
La Clemenza di Tito
K621 [4:45]
La Finta Giardiniera
K196 [2:09]
Der Schauspieldirektor
K486 [4:18]
Philharmonia Orchestra; rec. 1952 and 1953