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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904) Symphony No.8 in G major Op.88 [38.50] Richard STRAUSS(1864-1949) Tod und Verklärung Op.24 [24.29]
Prague Symphony Orchestra / Zdeněk Košler
rec. live, Albert Hall, Nottingham, 13 February 1967 ORCHESTRAL CONCERT CDs CD10/2010 [63.19] William WALTON (1902-1983)
Scapino Overture [8.16] Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Piano Concerto No.3 in C major Op.26 [28.13] Miloslav KABELÁČ (1908-1979)
Reflections Op.49 [15.15] Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Rapsodie Espagnole [16.45] Antonín DVOŘÁK
Slavonic Dance No.15 Op.72 [2.44]
Peter Katin (piano)
Prague Symphony Orchestra/Zdeněk Košler, Václav Smetáček (Kabeláč)
rec. live, Royal Festival Hall, London, 8 February 1967 (Walton, Prokofiev), 6 March 1968 (Kabeláč); Albert Hall, Nottingham, 13 February 1967 (Ravel, Dvořák) ORCHESTRAL CONCERT CDs CD2/2008 [71.12]
These two discs are derived from concerts given in the UK during tours by the Prague Symphony Orchestra in 1967 and 1968. The listing above needs to be cross referenced with a third OCCD issue (OCCD CD14/2011 - review), which contains a great performance of Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony recorded at the RFH on 6th March 1968. The performances are a continuing example of a touring orchestra giving of their best. The recording, whilst obviously not as smooth as one prepared in the studio, is more than acceptable, though the audiences of the 1960s seem to have been particularly prone to colds and coughs.
On the first of the above CDs Dvořák’s 8th is simply magnificent, the more so given how often these players must have performed it. There is no hint of routine anywhere. The rhythms have a lift and an incisive quality born of native instinct and the impact is helped by the distinctive colouration of the wind and brass. In those days orchestras from Eastern Europe did sound different. The Slavonic Dance given as an encore in Nottingham is played at tremendous speed and is greeted with cheers. Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration has been lucky on record and this performance simply adds to the choice of splendid readings. For myself nothing can quite match the Vienna Philharmonic and Fritz Reiner, recorded a decade earlier and still sounding astonishing.
The second CD is a mixed bag with one essential performance. The reason to buy the disc is Peter Katin’s only performance and recording of the Prokofiev 3rd Piano concerto. The notes describe his mixed feelings about the work but what comes over is a superbly confident display of virtuosity which quite rightly brings the house down. This is simply unmissable. As to the rest: Scapino is Walton letting his hair down and is dispatched with gusto; Miloslav Kabeláč's Reflections is a set of nine miniatures for orchestra written in 1963-64. It tickles the ear but for me it went nowhere in particular. Ravel’s Rapsodie is the only doubtful performance. It sounds to me as if the conductor is uncertain how to present Ravel’s typically filigree writing. Comparing this to the likes of Pierre Monteux leaves no doubt in my mind as to who understands the piece best, but this is just 17 minutes of 71 so it does not matter greatly.
Overall these CDs add to the feeling that we owe thanks to Geoffrey Terry for preserving such unrepeatable evenings in the concert hall. I doubt if such straight recordings, made, remember, with just two microphones, will ever again appear (though there are hints on the grapevine that certain engineers associated with the Berlin Philharmonic and maybe other European orchestras are relearning the art of the simple microphone pair). Live concert recording captures an urgency that rarely comes out of the studio.