One of the most grown-up review sites around

Apollo's Fire

Search MusicWeb Here

     
  
 

 

International mailing


  Founder: Len Mullenger             Senior Editor: John Quinn               Contact Seen and Heard here  

Some items
to consider

Brahms Symphony 4 Dvorak Symphony 9
Peter Aronsky (piano) Les Délices du Piano"
IL Carnevale di Venezia Clarinet with orchestra

Sinfonie Concertanti for two flutes and orchestra

TUDOR RECORDS

TROUBADISC

A most rewarding CD
Renate Eggebrecht violin

NORTHERN FLOWERS

World Premiere
Weinberg’s Concertino (cello)!

AVIE

Irish-Appalachian Celebration

REFERENCE RECORDINGS

Nick Barnard review
Michael Cookson review



an inspirational performance


An indispensable acquisition


The finest we have had in years


bewitching sound


Simply amazing


A splendid addition


One of the most enjoyable


quite superb!


utterly essential


A wonderful introduction


An outstanding CD


cheer-raising


One of the finest versions


Support us financially by purchasing this from

Bedřich SMETANA (1824-1884)
Má Vlast (My Country) (c.1872-1879)
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Jiří Bělohlávek
rec. live, 12-14 May, 2014, Smetana hall, Municipal House, Prague
DECCA 483 3187 [76:45]

Smetana’s set of six tone poems, gathered together under the collective title Má Vlast, occupies a particular place in the pantheon of Czech music. As such, they are frequently heard during the Prague Spring Festival and it was at the 2014 Festival that Jiří Bělohlávek and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra gave a pair of performances which resulted in this CD release. Bělohlávek had returned in 2012 for a second spell as the orchestra’s Chief Conductor – he remained in the post until his death in May 2017 - and these performances of Má Vlast represented their first appearance at the Festival since his return to the orchestra.

At the start of Vyšehrad the solo harp is very prominently recorded – as is the case in a version conducted by Jakub Hrůša which I reviewed last year. Thereafter, I thought this Bělohlávek performance contained much to admire. The music is presented freshly and the Czech Philharmonic’s playing is excellent. I especially liked the delivery of the subdued passages towards the end. In Vltava the river bubbles up attractively from its source and thereafter flows nicely through the Bohemian landscape. Bělohlávek paces the music intelligently: the speed is fairly swift but not excessively so. As the river wends its way past the wedding celebrations the dancers have a nice spring in their step. Best of all, the tranquil episode (5:30-7:44) is beautifully done with the CPO’s violins singing most poetically – and here the harp is properly balanced. All that said, other versions that I’ve heard have excited me more.

I’m afraid I found Šárka something of a disappointment. This music depicts a legendary warrior princess who exacts revenge on her unfaithful over. To be truthful, Smetana’s music isn’t perhaps the most graphic illustration of such a tale but, frankly, the present performance is a bit bland. I’ve listened to it a few times now and it doesn’t do much for me. Z českých luhů a hájů (From Bohemia’s woods and fields) fares rather better. Bělohlávek’s affectionate view of Bohemian rural life is splendidly played by the CPO and I liked the energy with which the polka episode is invested.

The first four minutes or so of Tábor are done well; a good feeling of legendary mystery is established. candidly, though, that’s the best passage in what I’ve always regarded as a somewhat weak piece. I completely get that Smetana was seeking to evoke national pride in this music but the result seems a bit obvious to me. Bělohlávek and the orchestra play the piece with conviction but Smetana’s music doesn’t really stir me: I got rather more out of it in the Hrůša performance. Blanik goes well under Bělohlávek. Here I especially admired the performance of the pensive section between 2:15 and 4:28, which is distinguished by excellent woodwind playing, not least from the principal oboe. At the end Bělohlávek brings the piece, and the cycle, home in an exuberant fashion.

When I look back at my review of the Jakub Hrůša recording, I see that I found rather more to say about each of the six symphonic poems than is the case with this Bělohlávek traversal. I think that’s instructive. The Hrůša reading is much more interesting – though I readily acknowledge that some listeners may find it is not to their taste, especially in the matter of some expansive tempi. By contrast, Bělohlávek is more mainstream and much less individual. Furthermore, while Tudor’s sound for Hrůša is vivid the Decca recording presents Bělohlávek’s performance in sound that is good but certainly not outstanding.

A note in the booklet, jointly authored by the two top executives of the Czech Philharmonic pays tribute to Jiří Bělohlávek, so I presume this release is offered in his memory. I admired much of this conductor’s work, not least with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and so I’m sorry that I can’t give an unqualified welcome to this account of Má Vast. There’s a good deal to enjoy in the performance but it doesn’t surpass either the very individual Hrůša performance or Rafael Kubelik’s memorable live 1990 recording with the Czech Philharmonic (review). For me, Jiří Bělohlávek’s memory is far better served by his eloquent 2016 recording, also on Decca, of Dvořák’s Stabat Mater (483 1510).

John Quinn

Previous review: Michael Cookson

 




Advertising on
Musicweb


Donate and keep us afloat

 

New Releases

Naxos Classical


Nimbus Podcast


Obtain 10% discount


Special offer 50% off

Musicweb sells the following labels
Acte Préalable
(THE Polish label)
Altus 10% off
Atoll 10% off
CRD 10% off
Hallé 10% off
Lyrita 10% off
Nimbus 10% off
Nimbus Alliance
Prima voce 10% off
Red Priest 10% off
Retrospective 10% off
Saydisc 10% off
Sterling 10% off


Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing
sample

Sample: See what you will get

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
   
Rob Barnett
Senior Editor
John Quinn
Seen & Heard
Editor Emeritus
   Bill Kenny
Editor in Chief
   Vacant
MusicWeb Webmaster
   David Barker
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger