COMPOSERS: Bedrich Smetana
ALBUM TITLE: Smetana
WORKS: Má vlast
PERFORMER: Bamberg Symphony/Jakub Hrůša
CATALOGUE NO: 7196 (hybrid CD/SACD)
Having dramatised the Czech nation in opera, Smetana turned to the orchestra in continuing his lifelong celebration of his country. A passionate follower of Liszt, it is unsurprising that he chose the symphonic poem. In My Country (Má vlast) he created a series of six orchestral canvases that take the listener from the inspiring heights of ‘Vyehrad’, where the nation’s fortunes are prophesied, to the river Vltava flowing through the heart of Bohemia then on to the triumphs and vicissitudes of the Hussite wars in Tábor and Blaník. Notwithstanding its iconic status for Czechs, My Country does travel, as fine performances by Levine and Harnoncourt have shown.
Jakub Hrůša has an enviable reputation in Czech repertoire and his reading of My Country has great merit. Throughout he favours measured sobriety which in ‘Vyehrad’ results in a powerful sense of narrative aided by vibrant string playing. Interpretatively, this works less well in ‘Vltava’ which needs more bounce in the famous main melody. The drama and passion of ‘árka’ are well captured, but the off-kilter Polka before the final tragedy is oddly lacklustre. There is plenty to admire in the remaining symphonic poems, not least the central idyll of ‘Blaník’ and the triumphant impetus of its finale in which he manages to avoid militaristic pomposity. Overall, there is a great deal to admire especially in capturing orchestral detail, aided by a vivid recording, which can often be lost. Kubelík’s recording at the 1990 Prague Spring Festival remains, however, the most inspiring performance available.