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Otakar OSTRČIL (1879-1935)
Summer, Op.23 (1927) [16:06]
Jaroslav RÍDKÝ (1897-1956)
Cello Concerto No.2, Op.36 (1940) [32:35]
Serenade for strings in E major, Op.37; Nocturne (1941) [9:05]
František Smetana (cello)
Brno Radio Symphony Orchestra/Bretislav Bakala (Ostrčil)
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Jaroslav Rídký (Concerto) Karel Šejna (Serenade)
rec. 1950s

Once more Forgotten Records has been delving in the back catalogue, this time Supraphon’s, to return with some rather obscure material from the 1950s. Otakar Ostrčil is best remembered as a conductor, and he was an influential figure in Prague’s musical life, head of the National Theatre company from 1920 to 1935. He died prematurely at the age of 56. He also made the first complete recording of The Bartered Bride. But he was also a significant composer in his own right, and has a symphony to his credit which has been recorded by Supraphon (review) as has his Calvary – Variations for Large Orchestra (review).
He studied under Fibich, amongst others, and the influence of his teacher remained strong for a number of years. By the time of his symphonic poem Summer (Léto) of 1927, however, he had expanded his orchestral palette to embrace a quite Straussian breadth. It was Ostrčil who gave the Czech premiere of Wozzeck, only a year before Summer was completed and whilst one wouldn’t claim in any way that it materially influenced him, it shows his advanced thinking. There is a generous and sometimes even opulent amount of colour about the Czech composer’s writing. Summer is bipartite, a slow movement followed by an Allegretto scherzando, which ends with a satisfying if very emphatic thud of triumph. It’s played by Bretislav Bakala and his Brno radio forces. Bakala was an incisive, powerful, exciting conductor and I have been quietly calling for a retrospective edition of his discs in very good sound — and not just the slew of Janáček discs he made. This shows how good he was and FR’s restoration is customarily first-class.
Jaroslav Rídký was a generation younger than Ostrčil, born in Liberec, and a student of Foerster, Jiřák and Křička in Prague. He played harp in the Czech Philharmonic between 1924 and 1938, Talich’s heyday, and conducted the Philharmonic Choir between 1925 and 1930. He wrote a number of symphonies and other works. His Cello Concerto No.2 has an element of neo-classicism about it but the predominant impression is late romantic lyricism and deft orchestration. There is also a sense of theatricality too and appropriate power. The slow movement is especially thoughtful, the finale offering contrastive opportunities for long lyric lines, and a fair degree of insouciance. Partly he seems to have been listening to Honegger, also perhaps Hindemith. This work has been called ‘post-Dvořákian’ by Czech critics, but I’m not sure what that really means, other than it hasn’t embraced much in the way of modernism. František Smetana the soloist, doesn’t have a big tone but he sings clearly and sympathetically and his legato is especially fine. The composer conducts his old orchestra with distinction. There is also the Nocturne from his Serenade for strings, here conducted by Karel Šejna. There’s an element of the concerto grosso about this, which hearkens back to the composer’s interest in the neo-baroque and there are some lovely solo string lines to be heard. Composed in 1941, it stands in the venerable tradition of orchestral string writing by Czech composers.
If you are interested in composers and interpreters, you should know that the restoration work on the LPs has been carried out with great care and professionalism. The disc is a pleasure to listen to. No notes, as is usual from this source.
Jonathan Woolf