If a repertoire could be said to play to a conductor’s largely
known strengths, then the first disc (of two) certainly does. Lovro
von Matačić is captured during visits to the NHK Symphony
in Tokyo between the years 1969 to 1973 essaying a series of operatic
overtures that are then expanded and amplified in disc two by trips
to central Europe for Janáček and Kodály and further
afield to some canonic Stravinsky.
By now von Matačić was back in Zagreb after his many years
of prestigious music directorships, principally Dresden, the Berlin
Staatsoper and Frankfurt am Main. He was still an active guest at
the Vienna State Opera and he continued to make recordings. The overture
to Der Freischütz
reminds one of his Eurodisc LP with
the Berlin Deutsche Oper, one of a number of operatic and operetta
discs that have continued to keep his name alive: he certainly deserves
to be remembered rather more than as the accompanist to Rabin, Oistrakh
and Richter in their various undertakings of standard repertoire.
Wagner was a particular strength, though he was not asked to direct
a studio recording of a Wagner opera on LP; too much competition and
too much expense. There was, though, an orchestral highlights affair
The Wagnerian quartet reveals
his sonorous and flexible attractions in this repertoire, though he
doesn’t quite manage to get the NHK to play out with requisite
sonorousness. The brass is good, and corporate discipline is high,
Janáček’s 1926 Sinfonietta raises the Bunka Kaikan
Hall roof and it would be interesting to know how often the NHK had
played it: I suppose Václav Neumann, who guested with the orchestra,
may have done so, though he’s not especially associated with
the work. The playing is good but it’s by no means remarkable,
and the conductor’s conception is not always wholly convincing.
In the second movement he’s somewhat leaden in places. I did
like that rousing ‘Moravian Flamenco’ moment in the central
movement, even though it doesn’t quite come over; nor in truth
is the brass always on top form, as there’s some woozy playing.
Though the audience launches into cheers at the end, it’s outstandingly
quiet during the performance. The Eastern European diptych is completed
by Háry János,
which makes even more sense given
it was composed in the same year as the Sinfonietta. I took to this
very much, even the eccentric moments, of which there is a major one.
The bells and triangle are well centred acoustically, and the wind
chording is good. The lower brass enjoys the lurching of the fourth
passage and there are plenty of very personalised touches throughout.
The eccentricity is the bizarre cimbalom effect generated by the Technicolor
spotlit NHK piano. As the engineers have gone in as close as they
could without actually burrowing their way into the piano’s
wood, you hear this remarkable apparition extensively and intimately.
You’re in for a treat.
The conductor’s Firebird
is resilient, rhythmically subtle
and convincing. Some of the best playing in the twofer can be found
here and some of the most practised rhythmic and dynamic control too.
There’s plenty of clarity and indeed refinement when required.
He is, in the end, a better Stravinsky conductor than of Janáček
and Kodály, at least on the evidence of these three works.
There are many worthwhile and musically interesting things in this
twofer and it’s especially valuable in increasing the conductor’s
repertoire on disc.
Masterwork Index: The