Belohlávek’s su­perla­tive Smetana fi­nale

Jan Smaczny ap­plauds the out­stand­ing qual­i­ties of the late Czech con­duc­tor

BBC Music Magazine - - Orchestral -

Smetana

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

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