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Bedřich SMETANA (1824-1884)
Evening Songs (1879) [7:44]
Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
The Diary of One who Disappeared (1917-19) [32:54]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Biblical Songs, Op.99 B185 (1894) [28:49]
Vilém Přibyl (tenor), Libuše Márová (mezzo soprano)
Milan Máša, Josef Páleníček (piano)
Kühn Mixed Chrous/Pavel Kühn
rec. 1971 (Smetana), 1972 (Dvořák), Czech Radio, Brno; 1977, Domovina Studios, Prague (Janáček)
Texts and translations included
SUPRAPHON SU4269-2 [69:43]

Supraphon’s reissue programme has wisely alighted on a series of recordings that Vilém Přibyl made in the 1970s and brought them together in one CD retrospective. The Smetana and Dvořák songs were recorded in the studios of Czech Radio Brno in 1971 and 1972 respectively whilst the Janáček cycle followed in the Domovina Studios, Prague in June 1977.

In the years since it was issued on LP a number of recordings have sought to scale the heights of the Janáček songs in particular but none has threatened Přibyl’s authority and Josef Páleníček’s piano contribution served only to reinforce the clarion and declamatory qualities generated in this performance. Přibyl is on record as having noted that The Diary of One who Disappeared was one of the most demanding roles he ever took. He approaches it with the kind of intense characterisation he brought to his Czech operatic roles, so richly preserved on disc. In fact, the work’s progression operates, as intended, as a perfectly calibrated study in increasing near madness, with Přibyl’s ardour drawing the listener into his tortured psyche. This is done without, however, any disfiguring gestures - harrowing obsession is quite enough. Beno Blachut embodied these qualities for an earlier generation and his recording of 1956 with Josef Páleníček is still arguably the greatest and most wrenching on disc. But with mezzo Libuše Márová a most sympathetic partner and near-legendary Pavel Kühn reprising the choral duties he had also provided for Blachut, this is a central recommendation, even with the occasional dodgy edit.

Dvořák’s Biblical Songs contain some of his beautiful settings – compressed, memorable and moving, Přibyl sings The Lord is my Shepherd very beautifully and moves to an effortless head voice in the Hear, Oh Lord, my bitter cry where the fine, often underrated pianism of Milan Máša is at its most textural and colour-conscious. The final cycle is the little Smetana Evening Songs, five brief pieces lasting here fewer than eight minutes. Máša is once again the pianist and these bold, noble settings, with their exultant, exuberant qualities, are perfectly suited to this pair.

The Czech texts are printed in the booklet with English (only) translations. Supraphon is still up to its old tricks translating ‘The Lord is my shepherd’ as ‘O, my shepherd is the Lord’. Otherwise, these outstanding performances have withstood time’s scrutiny with the greatest authority.

Jonathan Woolf

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