William Ward | Springfield, IL United States | 02/18/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This two-CD set is part of the Great Conductors of the 20th Century series, and it was an eye-opener for me. First, it presented a conductor I was only vaguely familiar with, leading an orchestra I hardly knew, the Czech Philharmonic. And second, it offered a wealth of Czech music, from the famous (Dvorak, Smetana, Janacek) to composers I'd never heard of, like Novak and Macha. Macha's "Rychlik" Variations is an intensely moving piece, while Martinu's Fifth Symphony, which I'd also not heard, turned out to be warm and accessible. Some of the recordings date from the dawn of the LP era, so the sound quality is variable. But the performances are terrific.
Like all the others in the Great Conductors series, this features recordings from a variety of sources, including radio broadcasts, plus an ample booklet with biography, photos and discussions of the recordings.If you're interested in how they played in the past, this is a worthwhile set."
Excellent through and through
Gregory M. Zinkl | Chicago, IL | 01/14/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It seems churlish not to give the full five stars to this outstanding issue, whatever sonic issues there might be; but with such music-making they are quite minimal!
The selection of music is mostly Czech, and it is all enjoyable, and at times downright revelatory. Janacek's Taras Bulba is just totally done to a fare-thee-well and is hard to equal, much less exceed.
But it isn't all heavy going . . . do you really want to deal with death of sons and tragedy all the time?!? Shostakovich's Festive Overture is given at once a joyful, but refined reading.
Ancerl is just an amazing conductor, and even w/o the benefit of the beautiful sounds of the Czech Phil, he gets remarkable results. Well, ok, the Concertgebouw is no slouch, and their Dvorak 8th is wonderful. I was taken aback when I heard the Smetana; the Vienna Symphony is not a favorite ensemble, but here, whatever magic Ancerl brought to the podium--well, they played terrifically for him. It sounds like the string section was hugely expanded, but of course it wasn't. The Martinu, a composer which Ancerl is always in top form for, is also excellent.
I can hardly stop listening to these discs. I think Ancerl is magic, and these readings show his magic in different lights, in a variety of mostly Czech pieces, with his most re-knowned (the Czech)and other ensembles."
One of the better issues in this series
Kevin Orth | 12/21/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The Czech Phil. under Karel Ancerl was one of the great orchestras of its time, with a conductor/orchestra flow comparable to Szell/Cleveland or Reiner/Chicago. The first disc is all Czech Philharmonic, and while other recordings these musicians made under Ancerl's baton, such as the Dvorak Requiem, show them in a more ideal light, this overview of Ancerl's rhythmically precise, texturally clean conducting style is well worth having. The other disc shows that Ancerl could elicit fine performances from other orchestras, even decidedly lesser ensembles, and includes some excellent live performances. There isn't a bad piece on either disc, and the sound is remarkably good considering the vintages."
Runs the gamut from very fine to not too interesting.
Jeffrey Lee | Asheville area, NC USA | 01/06/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I bought Ancerl's set mainly for the Concertgebouw Dvorak Eighth. Most of all, I wound up enjoying several of the other works served up here. The Moldau, in particular, is given an extremely fine performance that is warm and caring. Both Janacek's Taras Bulba and Shostakovich's Festive Overture are presented colorfully and incisively. But it is Novak's In the Tatra Mountains and Martinu's Fifth Symphony that I find particularly satisfying. The Novak is an evocative piece which offers some splendid musical scenes depicting various facets of one of nature's most imposing and inspiring phenomenons. Ancerl's interpretation conveys both beauty and poignancy. In the Martinu Fifth, he provides an alert, focused, rhythmically secure and tuneful reading. The work itself is fascinating. Its opening movement sounds like a mixture of Leos Janacek and a Czech Aaron Copland. From there on however things become more individualistically Martinu, especially in the third movement, where a rather compeling exotic expressiveness asserts itself....The Dvorak Slavonic Dance No. 8 is given a nice effort, but I prefer Talich's wonderful rendition. Ancerl's account of the same composer's Eighth Symphony is a solid one, though I derive more pleasure from Kubelik, Kertesz, Talich and Barbirolli who all bring greater sensitivity and poetry to this gorgeous work....Though Ancerl's reading of it seems fine, as a composition, Krejci's Serenade For Orchestra offers little that is special. Lastly, I find even less noteworthy Macha's Variations on a Theme...."
Not enough interesting music, not enough memorable performa
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 11/06/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"The first CD of this installment in the Great Conductors of the Century series is devoted to seldom-heard Czech music played by the Czech Philharmonic. I wish I could say that such unknown (to me) composers as Novak, Krejci, and Macha were revelations, but all write in a folk-based, conservative idiom that has been mined out by Smetana, Dvorak, and Suk. This memorial to Karel Ancerl will appeal more to those who have a taste for this kind of light nationalist fare.
The major work on the second CD is a broadcast performance of Dvorak's Eighth Sym. with the Concertgebouw from 1970, but it's quite routine, fairly brisk, and suffers from medicore sound. A 1958 reading of Smetanaa's Moldau with the distinctly unimpressive Vienna Symphony makes little impression. It's only the very last thing in the set, a solid performaance of Martinu's characterful, if at times chirpy Sym. #5, that sparks real interest. Martinu benefits from a gritty, assertive performance, recorded live from Toronto in 1971.
Despite the many reissues of Ancerl's Supraphon recordings, I've never found him more than a good conductor who could rise on occasion to give incisive performances of, for example Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex, but nothing beyond the ordinary has been selected here. Too bad, he deserves better."