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Antonio Pedrotti in Prague
Jan Panenka (piano)
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Antonio Pedrotti
rec. 1951-1971
SUPRAPHON ARCHIV SU4199-2 [3 CDs: 79:50 + 68:58 + 82:47]

The Italian conductor Antonio Pedrotti (1901-1975) had and has no obvious international following yet these dozen recordings should certainly not be forgotten. This pupil of Respighi never made it to the IMG "Great Conductors of the Twentieth Century" series but on the showing of especially his Debussy and Ravel he belonged there. He was, however, of the generation and geographical origin that has me expecting that one of these days Chris Howell will prepare an essay in his "Forgotten Musicians" series.

He laboured rewardingly in the then Czechoslovakia and in Italy but made little enduring impression. He crossed my field of vision as a conductor signed by Supraphon in the 1960s and 1970s. He rubbed catalogue shoulders with the likes of Lovro von Matačic, Jean Fournet, Serge Baudo and Gaetano Delogu, who also recorded with the Czech PO for Supraphon. Perhaps other memorial boxes are contemplated. These recordings range in date from 1951 to 1971. According to the Supraphon booklet he "conducted by heart and without a baton" and was "thorough, businesslike and human". It was Pedrotti's Ravel and Debussy in a 1970s bargain basement box (Rediffusion Legend LGDD102) that wound me in. The impressions made then drew me to the present set and to a previous Fournet disc.

Pedrotti's at first inexorably steady beat for Lever du Jour in Daphnis gives way to something more flexibly yielding which was later appropriated by cinema for Hollywood romance. The Debussy Faune is immersed in a bath of warmth with the flautist (who was he or she?) delightfully memorable for an entirely beneficial liquid vibrato. It's a shock to the system immediately after the Debussy to have the hard rapier dazzle of the start of the Mendelssohn Italian Symphony. The disc would have benefited from the Debussy being placed last. As for the Italian, its bright and hard 1951 mono is honest. Pedrotti keeps it lively and briskly forward-moving even in the two middle movements. The final Saltarello is not allowed to muse on the scenery. The music positively flies along. The Pavane pour une infante défunte has all the sweetly placid melancholy one could want and this version has no fears about the triple forte moments (4:30). This version ranks for poignant beauty with the Monteux. The same applies to the slender beauties of Ma Mère l'Oye. Even the violins have a sounding sweetness and intimacy which is surprising given that this recording is more than half a century old. Just as with the Pavane Pedrotti shows utter yet self-effacing mastery in this five-movement suite - a pity it was not the whole ballet.

His Pictures from an Exhibition is too athletic to be portentous. On the contrary there is mordant attack in Pedrotti's vision; nor is there any shortage of character. For this conductor's way with Mussorgsky's rocking serenity try The Old Castle. The horns sound fruitily plump in the virtuosic whirl that is Limoges. While you could never claim this 1953 recording as technically competitive with much that is available today it is well worth hearing and the bass drum thuds in The Great Gate are more ear-catching than you might have expected. The steady as she goes Haydn Variations is very cleanly done with all the deliberation of a grand priestly march but as with the Mendelssohn Italian Symphony the strings comes across as quite aggressive in tone. It's a shame that the individual variations are not separately tracked.

There's quite a big helping of Pedrotti's Respighi here. A wittily sharp-etched ballet suite from La Boutique Fantasque from 1972 - especially - is full of colourful characters and the orchestra's virtuosity is in the service of a potent imagination. The three Roman tone poems launch CD 1 with a brilliant flame play. These sessions date from 1971 in the case of Pines and 1961 for the other two poems; the latter sounding astonishingly good most of the time. Excepting Feasts there's a lot more suave shadings than vulgarity in these poems than I had recalled. Back to the early 1960s for Falla's Noches en las Jardines de España with Jan Panenka bringing to this work as much whirling and breathtaking brilliance as he brought reflective power and storm to his 1960s Supraphon cycle with Smetaček of the Beethoven piano concertos. I greatly enjoyed his Choral Fantasia a couple of months ago when I picked it up for less than a pound in a secondhand shop. The Falla is interesting but not up there with Gonzales Soriano or the now forgotten Aleksandr Iokheles on a 1960s Melodiya LP.

There's a useful four-page note by Petr Kadlec which is in English, German, French and Czech. The booklet also supplies thorough annotations on the tracks and discographical minutiae including identifying the recording directors and engineers in each case.

Supraphon have been good at historical reissues; witness their fulsome Talich and Ančerl series. I trust that they will spread their wings to accommodate boxes celebrating Smetáček (a superb Fibich Night at Karlstein), Chalabala (time to give a fresh airing to his Dvořák tone poems and Scheherazade), Klima (an as yet unmatched Suk War Triptych) and Sejna (all three Fibich symphonies, especially No. 3, and the Novak tone poems). Before that I do hope that they have in mind similar editions for the grand Czech recordings made by von Matačic, Baudo and Delogu. Until then be thankful that Pedrotti's name must have a come up at one of Supraphon's artist and repertoire meetings. He should not be forgotten and his reputation has been done proud here.

Rob Barnett

CD 1
Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936) Pines of Rome [22:51]; Roman fountains [14:47]; Roman festivities [24:31]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937) Ma Mère l'Oye suite [17:41]
CD 2
Gioachino ROSSINI La Boutique Fantasque - ballet suite [19:45]
Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946) Nights in the Gardens of Spain [24:04]
Maurice RAVEL Pavane pour une Infante défunte [7:33]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897) Variations on a Theme by Joseph Haydn, Op. 56a [16:59]
CD 3
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)/RAVEL Pictures at an Exhibition [30:32]
Maurice RAVEL Daphnis and Chloe - Suite No. 2 [25:54]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847) Symphony No. 4 in A major Op. 90 Italian [26:21]

rec. Rudolfinum, Prague, CD 1: 20–24 September 1971 (Pines), 13–19 February 1961 (Fountains; Feasts), 27 November 1962 (Ma Mère l'Oye); CD 2: 20–24 September 1971 (Boutique), 28 November– 1 December 1962 (Falla), 24–26 November 1962 (Pavane), 4 February 1966 (Brahms); CD 3: 25–27 June 1953 (Mussorgsky), 26–27 May 1956 (Daphnis), 30 January 1957 (Debussy), 26 February 1951 (Mendelssohn). AAD. CDs 1-2: stereo; CD 3: mono