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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony No. 5 in F major, Op. 76 (1875) [36:04]
Scherzo Capriccioso Op. 66 (1883) [12:49]
Festival March, Op.54, B.88 (1879) [4:22]
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Karel Šejna
rec. January 1952, Dvořák Hall, Rudolfinum, Prague (Symphony), March 1943, Prague (Scherzo and Festival March)

Karel Šejna’s January 1952 recording of Dvořák’s Fifth Symphony is something of a long-term favourite for many. If you’ve omitted to add Supraphon’s transfer, which is on SU 1917-2 001, coupled with the Slavonic Rhapsody, Op.45, Forgotten Records has disinterred it too, transferred from Supraphon LP but their coupling is intriguingly different.

This was the earliest of the Czech Philharmonic’s recordings of the Fifth and whilst one has to regret that Talich never got around to recording it before the war with his orchestra, the sense of vernal identification and luscious coloration of the post-war orchestra is hardly less impressive. In the Rudolfinum’s attractively reverberant acoustic those unrivalled earthy Bohemian clarinets still have the power to surprise and move, their vitality and folk-drenched address startlingly honest. The clarion brass playing is just as fine, if not quite so distinctive and characterful – that would hardly be possible – whilst the string choirs reveal the very best of the Czech traditions. It’s a shame that there’s no first movement repeat but the rhythmic power of the slow movement, taken at a genuine Andante con moto generates a wonderful and propulsive energy, the Scherzando’s spryness and zest ensuring that the inner movements maintain full vigour. For the finale Šejna charts a measured passage, allowing deft detailing but all the while maintaining a proper architectural grip. The woodland-and-forestry of the symphony emerge beautifully. And whilst the 1952 mono sound may be off-putting to those who demand the latest in hi-fi, the interpretation and playing are never less than utterly compelling.

Just under a decade earlier, at the height of the war, Šejna set down 78s that are amongst his earliest recordings. These transfers have been taken from the Esta 78s made in March 1943 and released over four sides. The sound is a touch whiskery, but the frequency response is good and the transfers are once again very effective. Those winds and horns are on superb form once again and there’s an irresistible rhythmic lilt in the Scherzo Capriccioso. The harp’s intermittent prominence is well attended to. The side join at 9:14 is noticeable, however. The ‘filler’ to this work was the seldom-recorded Festival March, Op.54, a brassy, breezy work of no great seriousness but which is played with brilliant urgency by conductor and orchestra.

So, if you’ve not yet caught up with the first, and in many ways still one of the greatest realisations of the Fifth Symphony, here’s another chance to do so.

Jonathan Woolf



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