Fibich: Symphony No. 3 in E minor; Toman and the Wood Nymph; The Tempest

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COMPOSERS: Fibich
LABELS: Orfeo
WORKS: Symphony No. 3 in E minor; Toman and the Wood Nymph; The Tempest
PERFORMER: Czech PO/Gerd Albrecht
CATALOGUE NO: C 350 951 DDD
Although widely respected in his own country, the late 19th-century Bohemian composer Zdenek Fibich has been inevitably overshadowed by his more illustrious compatriots, Smetana and Dvorák. Yet on the evidence of this enterprising release, his work hardly deserves to languish in comparative obscurity. It’s true that his voice is not quite so distinctive, but there’s little doubt that he achieved a complete mastery of orchestral writing and was able to turn out memorable thematic ideas.

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The two symphonic poems on this disc demonstrate an eclectic range of influences. Liszt, Wagner (in particular The Flying Dutchman) and to a certain extent Tchaikovsky, loom large in The Tempest. However, in Toman and the Wood Nymph Fibich pursues a more individual approach, in which the narrative structure and vivid orchestration prefigure the substance and style of Dvorák’s own sequence of symphonic poems. Perhaps the most compelling music of all is contained within the Third Symphony, especially in the intense slow movement, inspired, like so much of his later music, by a passionate love affair with his former pupil, Agnes Schulz. This work receives a tremendously urgent performance from Albrecht and the Czech Philharmonic, though Karel SŠejna with the same orchestra in a 1961 Supraphon reissue extracts even more charm and character from the music. Erik Levi