Belohlávek’s superlative Smetana finale
Jan Smaczny applauds the outstanding qualities of the late Czech conductor
Má vlast Czech Philharmonic/jirí Belohlávek Decca 483 3187 76:52 mins
As a touchstone of Czech nationalism, Smetana’s Má vlast has iconic status and a venerable recorded history. There are glittering prizes to be won in the right interpretation, but pitfalls, not least in making the final symphonic poems, ‘Tábor’ and ‘Blaník’, too bombastic. This present performance, one of the last recordings made by Jirí Belohlávek, rises high above the ordinary and reinforces his claim to being one of the finest post-war Czech conductors. Among his great abilities was close attention to the detail of the score without compromising spontaneity. The performance of ‘Vyšehrad’, in which the glories and vicissitudes of the Czechs are predicted, exemplifies these qualities: the glorious melody of the main Allegro avoids banality and its tragic climax shocks as much as the elegiac conclusion reassures.
The famous ‘Vltava’ melody really sings and its quieter moments are breathtakingly delicate. In ‘Šárka’ the story’s abundant passions are delivered with unashamed operatic intensity. The dangers in the concluding two symphonic poems, ‘Tábor’ and ‘Blaník’, is that they turn into a militaristic romp, but again Belohlávek delivers interpretations that blend religious fervour with heady excitement, producing a conclusion that inspires without a hint of pomposity. Throughout there are so many things to admire, but perhaps above all is the orchestral detail which leaps from the score as if newly minted. Given the exquisite instrumental balance Belohlávek secures, it is a pity the recorded sound didn’t offer a little more resonance. Nevertheless, this is one of the greatest performances of Smetana’s orchestral masterpiece available. ★★★★★
This performance of Má vlast rises high above the ordinary
Detailed yet spontaneous: Jirˇí Beˇlohlávek conducts the Czech Philharmonic