Jiří Bělohlávek Conducts Bedřich Smetana’s My Country

With the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Smetana
LABELS: EuroArts
ALBUM TITLE: Jiří Bělohlávek Conducts Bedřich Smetana’s My Fatherland
WORKS: Má Vlast
PERFORMER: Czech Philharmonic/Jiří Bělohlávek
CATALOGUE NO: 2072758

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The six movements of Smetana’s symphonic poem cycle Má vlast (My Country) sets the heroism of the Czech past alongside the beauties of the Bohemian countryside.The work’s iconic status for Czech audiences was secured by the tradition initiated in 1952 of beginning the Prague Spring Festival on the anniversary of Smetana’s death with a performance of My Country.

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The Czech Philharmonic under its chief conductor Jiří Bělohlávek is in fine form. For the opening concert of the 2014 Spring Festival, they fielded an orchestra far larger – five harps, rather than two, play the opening cadenza – than any Smetana encountered. It is a big-boned though never ponderous reading: the strings have a unanimity and rhythmic bite which keeps the interpretation vital throughout. Vltava, in particular, is astonishingly beautiful while Šárka and Tábor are, as they should be, operatically intense. At times the wind and brass ensemble is a little rough; the pastoral interlude in Blaník sounds edgy and the recording, mostly fine elsewhere, gives rather too much prominence to the piccolo at the end. Overall, this is a heart-warming rather than revelatory reading. As a concert performance it is well filmed, but visually could have been far more exciting. The director missed a trick by not showing the superb frescoes and statuary of the Smetana Hall, nor the nationally-inspired interiors of the rooms that surround it in Prague’s Municipal House. Jan Smaczny