Unusual collection well worth hearing
S. Hansen | Palo Alto,CA | 08/18/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Other than the 142 different recordings of Ma Vlast and Bartered Bride, the selection of Smetana's other works are somewhat spotty. So, when I saw this 4 disk set, it seemed like a low risk way to hear some of his other work. As usual with a low cost compilation, there are no notes included, which is extremely frustrating, especially when trying figure out the story about the recording on Disk 1(more follows). The set contains the following-
Disk 1-Ma Vlast, Czech Philharmonic, Vaclav Talich cond. recorded 1941
Disk 2 Triumphal Symphony -Sym Orchestra of Czech Radio Prague-Josef Hrncir cond.
Hakon Jarl Symphonic Poem S. O. of Czech Radio Prague-Alois Klima cond.
Disk 3- 12 solo Piano pieces plus 3rd movement of Triumphal Symphony
Disk 4- String Quartet No. 1 Talich Quartet
Piano Trio in G minor Daniel Kallmunzer(Piano), Simon Kanka (Cello) and Pavla Francu(Violin)
The suprise of all this is the much-recorded Ma Vlast. I'm not a particular fan of pre-HiFi recordings, so it didn't immediately register with me what this recording is. This is must be a recording honoring a country by the national symphony of that country at a time when the country had ceased to exist. Hitler had completed his conquest of Czechoslovakia in 1939 and had absorbed it into the Reich, so this recording must have made in exile as a tribute to their homeland. Quite simply, it's the finest performance of this much recorded piece that I've ever heard. For example, there's a precision to parts of the Moldau, the billowing string cadenza's before the main theme reappears that always turn to mush in every major contemporary peformance I've ever heard. This performance get's them flawlessly without it being mechanical. Remarkable. The sound quality is also shockingly good. Disk 2's contents by comparison are rather ordinary. Not being familiar with the Triumphal Symphony, I still can't decide if this is a mediocre symphony played faithfully, or a good symphony interpreted mediocrely. Given the much better performance on Disk 3 of the 3rd movement, by a student orchestra no less, I'd go with the latter. Still worth hearing though. Disk 3 is entirely solo piano, primarily dances, except for the aforementioned 3rd movement. It's all very well performed and recorded and very enjoyble. Disk 4 gives a nice sample of Smetana's chamber music, and is also very well played and recorded. On the whole, this is a very interesting sampler of Smetana's work and I'm very happy with it.