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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
In Nature’s Realm, Op. 91 (1891) [14:49]
Carnival overture, Op. 92 (1891) [9:38]
Othello overture, Op. 93 (1891-1892) [14:35]
My Home, Op. 62 (1992) [10:07]
Hussite overture, Op. 67 (1883) [13:38]
PKF - Prague Philharmonia/Jakub Hrůša
rec. January 2015, Forum Karlín, Prague, Czech Republic
Reviewed as a 24/48 download from eClassical
Pdf booklet included
PENTATONE PTC5186532 SACD [63:14]

The Czech conductor Jakub Hrůša (b. 1981) has been well reviewed on these pages; Brian Reinhart admired his account of Smetana’s Má vlast (review) and Leslie Wright made his Dvořák and Lalo Cello Concertos with Johannes Moser a Recording of the Year in 2015 (review). Hrůša leads a chamber ensemble known as the Prague Philharmonia in the kind of repertoire that his compatriot Rafael Kubelik did so well. Indeed, I turned to the latter’s DG Trio set of the Slavonic Dances and overtures for comparison here.

Hrůša faces a variety of challenges. For a start this small group lacks the weight and colour palette of a full-sized orchestra, and an anaemic sound is not what one wants in these wonderfully robust pieces. Also, Polyhymnia's recording isn’t as immersive as some of their recent offerings; Mikhail Pletnev’s ravishing Scriabin comes to mind (review). More important, Hrůša just can’t match Kubelik for sheer spontaneity and sense of idiom; those folk tunes are just too unyielding, and everything else seems rather calculated. As if that weren't dispiriting enough these performances lack personality or any sense of presence. The Hussite overture is certainly exciting, but even then the more experienced Kubelik shows how it should be done.

Incidentally, the 16-bit download of that Kubelik set isn’t cheap – it sells on Qobuz for £16.50 – but you can cherry-pick the overtures for less. If you’d like the Slavonic Dances as well then the DG Trio CDs – available online for under a tenner – are fantastic value. It’s an indispensable release, and it’s well recorded to boot.

I’ve also listened to Hrůša’s earlier Janáček collection from Supraphon; it includes the Lachian Dances, the Cunning Little Vixen suite and Taras Bulba. This time he leads Janáček’s home-town orchestra, the Jena Philharmonic. Although the playing is decent, the readings leave much to be desired. Yes, the organ in Taras Bulba is splendid, but the performance itself is very dull indeed. Sir Charles Mackerras and the intensely dramatic Wiener Philharmoniker are still sans pareil in that one. Also,, the early Decca digital sound is as good as it gets.

I was extremely annoyed to discover that the Supraphon download - unlike the Pentatone one - comes without a booklet. Following my grumpy Tweet the label offered to email me one; with respect, that's not the way to go. They also insist that download sites (DSPs) don’t want booklets – they cite iTunes in this regard – but eClassical and Qobuz tell me otherwise. All this buck-passing is very tiresome; in the meantime downloaders are being short-changed, even though they often pay more for these files than they would for the equivalent discs.

Dan Morgan



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