Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
Nothing you haven't heard before (in Schubert, Brahms, Bruck
Discophage | France | 11/07/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I had bought this CD - or at least its previous release, a Denon-manufactured Supraphon 32CO-1256, bar code T4988001064138, apparently listed neither here nor on the European sister companies (see the photo I've uploaded) - not so long after its first publication in 1987 (the original LPs came out in 1979 and 1984), but had missed its companion disc with Symphony No. 1 and the symphonic poem "The Tempest" after Shakespeare - a gap recently filled thanks to an opportunity found on the famous auction site (see my review of Fibich: Symphony No. 1 in F major, Op. 17; The Tempest, Op.46). I found these two latter pieces certainly not major, but enjoyable enough to prompt me to return to the two subsequent symphonies, which had originally failed to leave a great mark in my memory.
Re-hearing them, I understand why: they contain nothing you haven't heard before. It took me some time to pinpoint what Fibich's Second Symphony reminded me of. The strong canter-like rhythms of the first movement and the scherzo obviously seemed to point to Schubert's 9th (I had already heard hints of that in the first Symphony), but there was more than just Schubert. Ah, but yes, Bruckner, strikingly so, and especially the early Bruckner up to the 4th Symphony. Coming to think of it, the link between Schubert's 9th and Bruckner's Symphonies is an obvious one, so no wonder I first thought of Schubert.
There is less "weight" in Fibich than in Bruckner, more merriment and light-heartedness One hears echoes of Tchaikovsky (in the slow movement and the finale), traces of Mendelssohn (in the Scherzo) and hints of Brahms (in the slow movement and the scherzo - and that would be the Brahms of the Academic Festival Overture rather than of the major symphonic works). One characteristic of Fibich is the volubility of his woodwind writing. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that chirping birds were one of his main inspirations.
Lots of Tchaikovsky (the composer of the ballets and operas rather than of the symphonies) in the 3rd Symphony, and possibly Dvorak (especially in the first movement, which alternates between the dramatic-triumphant and the pastoral-lyrical). The music is most often playful and lyrical (verging on the sentimental at times in the slow movement), it can be dramatic and with a fine sense of color (as the beginning of the first movement and beginning of the finale), it is again pleasurable, and sometimes trite and bombastic.
Ultimately, there is nothing in Fibich that gave me the impression that I hadn't heard it before. Also, all those influences and reminiscences were already fairly out-of-date when the two symphonies were composed: 1893 and 1899. Maybe that is what makes a composer a "minor" one. Still, there is much in Fibich that is enjoyable, if in a derivative manner. You don't need absolutely to add these works to your collection until you've exhausted your appetite for Brahms, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky and Bruckner, but when you have, he can offer a welcome and refreshing escapade.
A quick browse on this website shows that Fibich's Symphonies don't enjoy much more recorded currency nowadays then when this CD came out in the mid-1980s (it was reviewed in the February 1988 issue of Gramophone), under the joint collaboration of the digital pioneer Denon and the (still Czechoslovakian) national company Supraphon. Fibich was rare stuff back then - and had been even on LP, both sides of the Iron curtain. Now, some twenty years later, other than the reissue of the old Supraphon/Sejna recordings made in the 1950s to the early 1960s (Symphonies 1 2 & 3 or Fibich: Symphonies Nos. 1, 2, 3), only Järvi with Detroit on Chandos has made a modern, digital recording of the complete cycle (Fibich: Complete Symphonies). Naxos has recently entered the fray with an unknown orchestra and conductor, and the review in Fanfare was not positive (FIBICH: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2 [CD on Demand]).
I can't assess the comparative merits of the performances (by the way, they are not a real "complete cycle", in that three different conductors lead the three different symphonies, but they do share the same orchestra) since I do not have any of these other recordings (and there are a lot of recordings of Brahms' and Dvorak's Symphonies I'd want to listen to before spending more time of Fibich). In the meantime, this CD can snugly gather dust on my shelves. I may return to it for further reference, if only to remember what it is that makes the greatness of Schubert, Brahms, Bruckner (even early Bruckner), Dvorak (even early Dvorak), Tchaikovsky.
TT 73:00, which is a much better deal than the stingy 44-minutes of the companion disc. Good sound, and I hear no striking difference between the 1976 and 1981 recordings. The liner notes do not provide much valuable information.