Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Czech Suite, Op.39, B93 (1879) [22:35]
American Suite, in A Op.98b, B190 (1895) [21:33]
Symphonic Variations, Op.78, B70 (1877) [21:28]
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Alois Klíma (Czech), Karel Šejna
rec. 1952 (Variations) and 1957, Prague FORGOTTEN RECORDS FR244 [65:49]
Supraphon collectors may remember that the LP numbered LPV341 housed both the Czech and American suites, parcelled out to conductors Alois Klíma and Karel Šejna respectively. To cement the theme, Forgotten Records’s restoration of both suites also includes Šejna’s earlier 1952 recording of the Symphonic Variations. All feature the Czech Philharmonic and the timing is thus pushed to 65 minutes in total.
Klíma (1905-80) was conductor of the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra for two decades, from 1951-71, and had a catholic repertory – from Haydn to Robert Heger and from Mozart to John Ireland. His major recordings however were of Czech works, Dvořák to Dobiáš included, and many will have cause to be grateful to him for his incisive and characterful conducting. His 1957 Czech Suite recording is agile and generously sprung with a full measure of the music’s grazioso elements intact. He draws a lovely lifting of the bass line and evokes supple wind playing in the central movement of the five, and encourages sinewy dancing rhythms in the finale. Here, propelled by strong lower strings, the brassy colours are triumphantly matched by the percussion – a Furiant indeed.
The American Suite is genial but undemanding, again cast in five movements, none of them on the level of the Czech Suite. But even in a work as essentially populist as this, Šejna still gives his favoured double-basses their head – he was himself an ex-bassist - and brings a deal of warmth to the central Allegretto, whilst revelling in its bracingly rhythmic outer sections. For a more comprehensive look at his superiority as a Dvořák conductor one should turn instead to the Symphonic Variations. Some contemporary critics, British ones in the main, were somewhat sniffy about this recording, preferring to laud the home team effort from Thomas Beecham. Admittedly Beecham was a vitalising, indeed sometimes mercurial interpreter of the composer and his recording of the variations is indeed full of felicitous touches, wit and warmth. But maybe it was also to do with the recording level which may have seemed light on its feet after the fuller-blooded Beecham. I don’t find anything lacking in Šejna’s reading and he has the Czech Philharmonic on characteristically energised and cultured form. It’s a reading of delicacy and power, one careful to avoid grandiloquence at all times.
I seem to repeat myself constantly on this point when I note, finally, that Forgotten Records’ restoration is excellent.