Classical Music classical CDs reviewed New CD reviews every day latest Classical CD releases Buy your CDs of the classics here

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Music Webmaster
Len Mullenger:


Symphony no.9 in D minor, op.125 - "Choral"
Gabriela Benackova, Vera Soukupova, Vilem Pribyl, Karel Prusa, Prague Philharmonic Choir, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Lovro von Matacic.
Live, Prague 6.6.1980, sung in Czech
Praga Productions PR 250 076 [68'25"]
 Amazon UK   £11.99

By tradition, the Prague Spring Festival opens with a performance of Smetana's Ma Vlast and closes with Beethoven's Ninth. Foreign guest conductors have been called from time to time and in 1980 it was the turn of Matacic. The recording is generally good, with slightly recessed violins and a trumpet which dominates the climaxes (but since he sometimes plays out and on other occasions retreats into the texture, there would seem to be the hand of the conductor in this). The choir has good presence.

After a notable start in the EMI stable with some Philharmonia recordings, Lovro von Matacic had a rather fitful recording career. In England he was virtually forgotten until the last few years of his life but elsewhere he was more appreciated. In Italy he was a much-loved figure, usually able to get the best out of the recalcitrant Italian Radio orchestras, and he gave a Beethoven cycle in Milan in 1962 which proved, in a recent re-broadcast, to have a certain rugged authority.

It is the two middle movements which give most pleasure here. In the scherzo, in spite of a few untidy moments, he certainly unleashes the Czechs' innate sense of rhythm - it sounds like a slavonic dance. The whooping horns he encourages are in more doubtful taste. In the slow movement the orchestra's pastoral-sounding woodwind and unforced string quality are a pleasure in themselves, but the conductor sees that they dialogue with one another and shapes the phrases with loving little nudges and holdings-back that might be more in place in Dvorak than in Beethoven. However, he never exaggerates, and the basic pulse remains steady.

With the first movement I am less happy. There is little to fault but at times the conductor seems not very interested in the proceedings, allowing the orchestra to proceed on automatic pilot. In Milan in 1962, at a slower tempo, he showed far more grip.

A finale in Czech is a bit of a jolt (the booklet does warn you in small print, but I hadn't noticed). We know Josef Veselka's Prague Philharmonic Choir to be a magnificent instrument and the performance has a wholehearted quality which can be enjoyed. But there is again a lack of grip; in the first choral section, each variation settles into a tempo of its own so that any sense of an unfolding structure is lost.

The truth is that Matacic was a conductor who shaped the performance the orchestra gave him rather than transformed it. If you listen to the slow movement in the Milan version, with string players from a quite different tradition, you hear another kind of performance. An artist's interpretation can certainly change in 18 years, but the child is father to the man. Matacic's ability to understand the orchestra's psyche and then mould it explains both why orchestras loved him and why he never quite reached the top.

Reviewing the Monteux Ninth I concluded that, whatever the reservations, this was one of the Ninths that count. I don't think the present one is, though I enjoyed hearing it once and would perhaps return for the middle movements, and that for the particular qualities of the orchestra, while recognising Matacic's ability to make those qualities shine.

Christopher Howell

Reviews from previous months

You can purchase CDs, tickets and musician's accessories and Save around 22% with these retailers : - The UK's Biggest Video Store

Concert and Show tickets


Musicians accessories

Click here to visit

Return to Index