Highly satisfying collection
Marc Haegeman | Gent, Belgium | 07/01/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is by far the most satisfying collection coming from the reputed Prague Spring Festival, which has already given us through various labels (most notably Praga) some delectable gems of the classical catalogue. Documenting the first two (1947-1968) decades of the Festival, this well-documented 4-CD box assembles some of the greatest names in classical music of the post-war era - guest conductors and soloists appearing with either the Czech Philharmonic or the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra.
Disc #1 is especially interesting for Evgeny Mravinsky's rendition of Tchaikovsky's 4th Symphony with the Czech Philharmonic in 1957. This version doesn't supplant the famous studio recording in London with the Leningrad Philharmonic from 3 years later, but it's still a formidable account, revealing an approach to Tchaikovsky yet unheard in the West in those days, with a very exciting final movement. Lev Oborin is the soloist in Rachmaninov's 3rd piano concerto, conducted by Leopold Stokowski in 1961. A broad, passionate version, with the occasional slip of the finger, but working up to a riveting finale.
Disc #2 is for my money the highlight of this box, coupling an irresistible account of Martinu's 6th Symphony by Charles Munch (audibly enjoying himself conducting the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra in 1967) and an outstanding, adrenaline rushing performance of Stravinsky's "Rite" by Igor Markevitch with the Czech Philharmonic in 1959.
Disc #3 opens well with a magnificent account of Beethoven's "Coriolan Overture" by George Szell from 1959. Georges Cluytens' version of Berlioz' "Symphony Fantastique" is a fine one, if nothing special. But it's always rewarding to hear Vaclav Talich in Dvorak, here in his "Wood Dove" from 1954.
The same goes for Karl Ancerl conducting Smetana's "From Bohemia's Meadows and Forests" in 1968. Disc #4 is completed by a masterful Sviatoslav Richter in Mozart's 20th piano concerto with Kirill Kondrashin from 1950, but also an especially fine David Oistrakh in Prokofiev's Violin Concerto #1, conducted by Rafael Kubelik, from 1947 - the oldest recording of the set - and unfortunately both somewhat let down by the sound quality.
All transfers are excellently handled by Andante, although given the age and the source of the recordings no sonic miracles should be expected.
(The box erroneously mentions Smetana's "Moldau" on disc #4, although only "From Bohemia's Meadows and Forests" is included.)
Some Historic Treasurable Performances; Variable Sound
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 04/14/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The Prague Spring Festival began right after World War II and was a brave attempt on the part of Prague musicians to celebrate their newfound freedom from the Nazi tyranny. The freedom didn't last because of the Communist takeover not long afterwards, but the Festival continued. These four CDs contain performances broadcast from the Festival from 1947 to 1968. That latter year was when, after the glorious political 'Prague Spring' -- a thaw in the Soviet control -- Russian tanks again rolled into Prague to clamp down on Czech citizens. We hear a cross-section of performances mostly by the fabled Czech Philharmonic led by world-famous conductors. And we get to hear Sviatoslav Richter's first performance outside Soviet Russia in 1950.
CD 1 contains a rather average performance of the Tchaikovsky Fourth Symphony (Yevgeniy Mravinsky, CPO, 1957) -- not Mravinsky at his best -- and a sloppy but very exciting Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto with Lev Oborin (Ashkenazy's storied teacher; Leopold Stokowski, CPO, 1961).
CD 2: Martinu's lovable Sixth Symphony ('Fantaisies symphoniques') in somewhat mushy sound but a wonderful performance (Charles Munch, Czech Radio SO, 1967) and an electrifying 'Rite of Spring' (Igor Markevitch, CPO, 1959).
CD3: A powerful Beethoven 'Coriolan' Overture (George Szell, CPO, 1959) in good sound, an exciting 'Symphonie Fantastique' (André Cluytens, CPO, 1955) and a dramatically effective Dvorák 'The Wild Dove' conducted by the long-time CPO conductor Vaclav Talich who had suffered with accusations of collaboration with the Nazis from which he had finally been exonerated. His return to the CPO for this performance in 1954 was greeted rapturously. The performance is one of the highlights of the set.
CD4: Smetana's 'From Bohemia's Meadows and Forests' in very good sound and a glorious performance (Karel Ancerl, CPO, 1968); Prokofiev's First Violin Concerto with David Oistrakh (in somewhat dated sound, but a performance with great élan; Rafael Kubelik, Prague SO) and the highlight of the set: Sviatoslav Richter playing the Mozart D minor piano concerto, K. 466 with Kirill Kondrashin and the CPO. I've never heard the first movement cadenza (the one by Beethoven) played so brilliantly.
This set is not for everyone, obviously, but those curious about the Czech Philharmonic, about the various conductors and soloists, and about the Prague Spring Festival, this is a must.
A great anthology, not to be missed
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 01/04/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
Classical record collectors are faced with dozens of hisotiral/live concert reissues every month, bu this one is special. To my ears it contains severeal performances that match anything in the catalog. Since the two reviewers beelow have cataloged the contents of each disc, I will only make a few comments:
Disc 1: Although the mono sound is about what one would expect from an AM radio, Mravinsky's Tchaikovsky Fourth is a great performance, full of tension, drama and nervous tension. Stokowski follows with conductinfg of the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto #3 that's wonderfully alive, and Lev Oberin justifies his reputation with a measured but masterful solo part.
Disc 2: Martinu's Sym. #6 is given a rapturous performance by Charles Munch, one of the composer's champions. Since to me this music sounds like orchestral wallpaper, I have limited appreciation. But the Rite of Spring conducted by Igor Markevitch is a performance of a lifetime, incrdibly fresh, alert, and full of phrasing and details you've never heard before.
Disc 3: George Dzell couldn't always be counted on to liven up in concert, but he certainly does here in a riveting Coriolan Over.
Andre cluytens follows with a spirited and colorful Symphonie fantastique, notable more for the Czech Phil. than for any special insights from the conductor--the stereo sound is quite good. But the high point of this disc is Dvorak's tone poem The Wild Dove in a magisterial performance by the legendary Vaclav Talich, all the more wonderful for being in exceptionally good sound for 1954.
Disc 4: Karel Ancerl was at his best in the Czech phase of his career before the Soviet clampdown in 1968 drove him into exile. Here he gives us a truly great performance of Smetana's From Bohemia's Meadows and Forests in great sonics, the best so far in the set. The Prague Festival served as a showcase for eminent Soviet artists (on other labels one can get sizable collections of live performances by Richter and Mravinsky). Richter's 1950 Mozart Concerto in D minro comes in primitive sound, marring an otherwise great reading from both the soloist and conductor Kiril Kondrashin. The piano is inexcusably harsh. The same sonic limitations make it hard to listen to Oistrakh's 1947 reading of the Prokofiev Concerto #1, outstanding as it is. the orchestra is a muddy blur in the background while the violin is two inches from the microphone. Both are odd inclusions given that these artists can be heard in the same works under better recorded conditions.
That aside, each disc contains at least one and often two performances that are a must-listen. Enthusiastically recommended."