SMETANA Má Vlast / Belohlávek


Má Vlast
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Jiri Belohlávek
Int. Release 05 Jan. 2018
1 CD / Download

Track List

Bedrich Smetana (1824 - 1884)
Má Vlast, JB1:112






Czech Philharmonic, Jiri Belohlavek

Total Playing Time: 1:16:29

. . . this live account has a valedictory quality to match Rafael Kubelik's unforgettable 1990 Prague concert . . . Belohlavek's final thoughts on music he loved are equally special.

. . . [Belohlavek] was a distinguished conductor of the music of his native land. And this "Má Vlast" does him and his orchestra great credit. It's a remarkably vivid account, exceptionally well played by the Czech Philharmonic.

. . . a perfectly apt memorial . . . ["Tábor"]: Belohlávek sustains that dramatic tension into the final "Blaník", which is almost seamlessly linked to its predecessor, giving the whole cycle its sense of symphonic unity. The two best-known numbers, "Vltava" and "From Bohemia's Woods and Fields", get wonderfully warm readings in their own right; like the whole cycle, they may be pieces that every Czech orchestra knows inside out, but there's no hint of routine here . . . [this is a version to be reckoned with], and most of all, a very worthy tribute to a fine musician.

. . . [the "Má Vlast" cycle's strengths] are on full display in this bouncy and very Czech rendition . . . there's the extra thrill of hearing these Czech musicians surge and roll with the music's rhythms . . . Whatever the music's landscape or character, Belohlavek's orchestra deliver with flair and conviction.

. . . Belohlávek leads his dedicated and eager musicians in an account (seeing the work whole) that satisfies on every level, played superbly, and recorded with a realism that places the grateful listener in the best seat of the Smetana Hall. In terms of tempo, phrasing, dynamics and colour (and any other musical ingredient that comes to mind) -- and story-telling, whether geographical or legend -- Belohlávek and the Czech Phil conjure beauty, drama and patriotic fervour of the highest level. The current of the "Vltava" is perfectly judged, so too its magical moonlit episode, and when the river becomes more-rapidly flowing into Prague, before heading to the sea, the effect is momentous . . . The imposing landscape of "Bohemia's Woods and Fields", and its mysteries, are especially well-handled, ending with a bucolic knees-up . . . I found much to enjoy and enlighten here.

In the famous "Vltava" (The Moldau) with its distinctive theme Belohlávek presides over glorious playing of contrasting emotions, generating significant tension as the river winds its eventful course. Named after the heroic Czech warrior princess Sárka the poem is entirely vivid and often stirring. The poem "Z ceskych luhu a háju" (From Bohemia's Meadows and Forests) in Belohlávek's hands is a joyous and picturesque portrayal of the Smetana's Bohemia countryside, complete with evocative nature sounds . . . "Tábor" feels resolutely played and it brims with foreboding. Striking is the final poem "Blaník", the white mountain inside which a legend says a huge army of Hussite knights sleep in timeless peace until threatened by an enemy invasion. Here Belohlávek is vividly dramatic, generating palpable exhilaration at the conclusion. "Má vlast" is a work running through the Czech Philharmonic players like lifeblood; they are completely familiar with the score. Under Belohlávek's baton, nationalistic passions burn fiercely yet without fear of bursting out of control . . . The engineering team for Belohlávek excel, providing sound quality which has splendid presence, clarity and balance . . . With the Czech Philharmonic in such outstanding form, this 2014 Belohlávek's account can stand comparison with the finest recordings.

"Vysehrad" opens with the wonderful harps. Belohlavek and the orchestra go on to create a grand but evocative sound, with the recording being very spacious. Despite the fine-grained elegance of the playing there is much wonderful rhythmic detail. "Vltava" opens with the beautifully fluid flutes, depicting the source of the river, and as this develops into grand sweeping gestures, Belohlavek brings a lovely rhythmic swing to the music. The episodes along the way are strongly characterised, with rhythmically crisp dance, fine-grained, transparent textures for the water sprites, and terrific drama for the arrival in Prague, yet still with a feeling of constant onward flow. "Sárka" is impetuous and dramatic, yet with underlying Czech rhythms always tightly delineated, and a robust feeling of dance. Overall, this most dramatic of tone poems is given a real sense of narrative, full of orchestral colour. "Z ceskych luhu a háju" is a joyful piece with echoes of Dvorak's Slavonic dances. Belohlavek and the orchestra phrased the music beautifully, interlacing the Czech melodies and rhythms with a fine-grained shapeliness, but Belohlavek never loses sight of the larger scale whole. "Tábor" opens mysterious with impending drama, and Belohlavek combines the grand chorale with a terrific feeling of narrative. The final tone poem, "Blaník" is textually related and almost seems like an extension of the previous movement. Again we appreciate Belohlavek's combination of narrative drama, overall sense of architecture with fine rhythmic detail . . . a good modern recording with a wonderful sense of occasion, along with Belohlavek's sympathetic take on the music.

. . . [Belohlavek's] greatest contribution as a conductor was to the music of his countrymen . . . it's a testament not only to Belohlavek's skill as an interpreter but also to the way he honed that skill over the course of his long career. Here is an altogether more assured voice . . . wanner, more subtle and more attuned to the capabilities of these outstanding musicians. The flute solos in the first two bars of 'Vltava' are meticulously articulated. The opening brass harmonies of 'Vysehrad' simply glow. And overall there's a sense of lyrical ease, of a conductor so at home in this idiom that he's prepared to be swept along by the musical tide . . . this recording plays the long game. Note how he gradually ramps up the tension in 'Tábor' and manages to make 'Blaník' sound like a genuine culmination of the entire cycle, rather than an afterthought. Note, too, how he marries that sense of underlying structure with surface detail . . . it all makes for a satisfying listen, and one very true to Belohlavek: not a fireworks display but a showcase for sincere, thoughtful and polished musicianship.

Eine wunderbare Aufnahme, orchestral prächtig, dunkel, nie falsch romantisierend oder pathetisch. Hier klingt Herzblut!

. . . [Belohlavek met d'abord en avant] son luxe et sa finesse retrouves . . . l'audiophile en a pour son argent: l'oreille est partout dans un fauteuil, ŕ admirer le spectacle en cinémascope. Elle ne perd rien du souffle chaud qui embrasse "Par les prés et les Bois de Bohęme" ni de la monumentalité du choral "Vous qui ętes les combattants de Dieu" . . . [Bref, on trouve] peu de fresques si magnifiquement peintes.