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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67 (1808) [33.01]
Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58* (1806) [30.28]
Romance No. 2 in F major for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 50+ (1798) [8.43]
* Josef Páleníček (piano)

+ David Oistrakh (violin)
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Karel Ančerl

rec. Rudolfinum Studio, Prague, February, *October 1953; +Domovina Studio, Prague, April 1954

The strings' careful, almost finicky etching of the opening motif indicates that Ančerl's Fifth won't be for everyone. The conductor presumably intended to steer a middle course between Toscaninian volatility and traditional Germanic weightiness. There's sufficient impulse and drive - and the horns sound wonderfully full in the back-and-forth wind chords of the development - but more tonal heft was really needed to bring off so moderate an Allegro pace. The players, who press ahead on several occasions, don't sound entirely convinced. The Andante is more winning from the start: the string theme is dusky and alluring, the martial bits contrast with it sharply, and the transitions between the two are suitably mysterious. Only the woodwinds' too-even accenting at 6.52 and the watery bassoon solo at 8.27 mar the effect. The bass accents in the Scherzo's introductory phrases are cushioned rather than stabbing, after which the horns' theme strides forth, ominous and inexorable. The Finale, played without repeat, is firm and confident, marked by terrifying trombone outbursts. Elsewhere among the winds, the principal clarinet is pleasantly woody; the oboes add a nice tang to chords, but the principal is plagued with a wheezy vibrato.

The G major concerto begins unpromisingly with clunky, tubby piano chords - perhaps a flaw in the otherwise ambient monaural recording, since Páleníček injects bright, pearly articulations later in his solid, meat-and-potatoes reading. In any case, the strings' trim, buoyant response brings things to life, ushering in a firmly shaped, well-balanced ritornello that exemplifies this orchestra at its best. In the Andante con moto, the string octaves are gaunt and stark; the piano's hushed answering chorales are nicely inflected, though again unflatteringly reproduced. The Rondo sizzles: the lyric episodes are broadly phrased "over the barlines", the better to play off the main theme's sharper rhythmic profile.

The Romance, recorded later in a less favourable venue, isn't much of a bonus. Oistrakh spins a clean enough line, but his dry sound and characteristic intensity militate against the tonal purity and sweetness that would make these phrases soar. And here the orchestral sonority is subject to mid-range break-up.

Setting aside the indicated tribute to Ančerl, the purpose of this reissue eludes me. The choice of works as such constitutes a pleasing program, but none of the performances quite stands out in its own right. As always, interest inheres in the distinctive Czech Philharmonic sound, but the orchestra remade all of these pieces for stereo with different conductors, and those would be the versions to seek out or, more likely, hunt down. Oistrakh, too, comes off better in his stereo Romances on DG, though the Grumiaux (Philips) versions reign supreme.

Stephen Francis Vasta



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