Orfeo has shown a strong commitment to releasing broadcasts given by Rafael Kubelík during his tenure as chief conductor of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. The repertoire has included Bartók, Berlioz, Bruckner, Debussy (Pelléas et Mélisande
), Handel, Hartmann, Orff,
Smetana and a slew of Beethoven and Dvořák. This 3-CD box of mono broadcasts amplifies his reportorial strengths in the case of two of these composers and adds Mendelssohn and Schumann. All recordings were made between 1960 and 1963.
The Schumann Cello Concerto (April 1961) with János Starker does indeed possess, as booklet writer Rob Cowan notes, intriguing little bends of the line in the opening paragraphs and the malleable flexibility of the soloist’s phrasing is very notable here. In fact it’s somewhat unusual, as his studio inscriptions with Giulini and Skrowaczewski are rather straighter in that respect. The expressively weighted caesurae and the natural-sounding but intense rubati all attest to a strong collaborative rapport between Starker and Kubelík. Starker is quite forwardly balanced which accentuates the taut and focused tone, sometimes a touch nasal. The oasis of the slow movement, beautifully played, is followed by witty exchanges in the finale between the supple wind players, and a fine cadenza. This first CD also contains two of Haydn’s London
Symphonies. No.101 was given in May 1963, No.102 being part of the same Schumann Cello Concerto concert. Both have warmly moulded opening slow introductions with droll characterisation in the Menuets, the one in Symphony No.101 in particular possessing a lively quotient of pesante
phrasing and articulation. The slow movement of No.102 is perhaps even more affectionately spun than the companion symphony but both finales are full of elegance and fluency. I tend to associate Kubelik more with Haydn’s choral music – the Seasons, Creation
and St Cecilia
Mass (all in Orfeo’s live series) – but he proves a fine interpreter of the symphonic music.
The second disc observes symmetry by giving us Schumann’s Piano Concerto, with one of its most adhesive adherents, Claudio Arrau. This comes from the same concert as Haydn’s Symphony 101. Arrau’s playing marries his famously big, powerful tone with lashings of virtuosity. The later heaviness that could mire some of his performances is not apparent here, and he plays with purposeful and often fiery poetry. The cadenza is very much a case in point. Perhaps, unlike Starker, he is not quite as amenable to inflective novelty in his collaboration with Kubelík – the pianist remains the dominant personality - but it’s a fine performance nevertheless. It’s followed by the Rhenish
Symphony (September 1962), which he recorded commercially in Munich. It receives a well-sprung, lively reading with an especially effective slow movement. It won’t efface memories of Giulini’s later LAPO recording but adds materially to the portfolio of the Czech conductor’s live Schumann on disc.
There’s not a huge amount of Kubelík’s Mendelssohn on disc which makes this live Hebrides
overture from January 1962 and the Reformation
Symphony from October 1963 valuable. He is very responsive to the elemental terracing of dynamics in the Hebrides
and directs a powerful, prayerful, intensely sculpted Fifth Symphony. The orchestra’s sonority remains warm throughout the various choirs, but there’s no lack of momentum when required. As ever with Kubelík, it’s of the flexible kind, not least in the poignantly expressive Andante
. Stern collectors may well ask how many different versions of Firkušný’s Dvořák Piano Concerto one needs. It was a work he recorded multiply in the studio. Other live accounts exist in addition to this February 1960 account. In fact this Cologne broadcast was made close in time to his studio Westminster recording. As so often, he performs the Kurz edition. If there is nothing especially revealing here, that’s because the pianist was so consistently outstanding an exponent of the work and so closely identified with it. His fellow countryman brings a powerful orchestral palette to bear, and that is certainly worth considering. The piano sound is for me just a touch recessed but it doesn’t spoil enjoyment of a markedly successful reading.
The re-mastering has been accomplished most sympathetically, and Orfeo’s latest release to celebrate Kubelík’s art can itself be very warmly commended.
Mendelssohn symphony 5
Schumann piano concerto