WORKS: Symphony No. 1
PERFORMER: Czech PO/Karel Ancerl
CATALOGUE NO: SU 3666-2 ADD Reissue
My memories of hearing Karel Ancerl (1908-73) conduct the Cleveland Orchestra, the first major orchestra I encountered, three decades ago have always coloured my impression of his recordings, of which these strike me as representative specimens. Ancerl’s bearing was dignified, even sober, and his music-making, although genuine and accomplished, was objective rather than dynamic or hyper-expressive. There’s much to enjoy in this Mahler 1, not least the bucolic sonorities of the Czech Philharmonic, but in moments of inwardness – the trio of the second movement, for example, or the recollection of the final Wayfarer song in the third – Ancerl is matter-of-fact, shying away from the sentiment that can sear the soul. At the other end of the spectrum, most of the climaxes generate convincing excitement, but the angst-ridden passage that precedes and (ideally) builds irresistibly to the final joyful peroration in the first movement is rendered in a disturbingly literal way (and the violins sound scraggly and thin here). Among other options, Kubelík’s famous Bavarian RSO account has more character in concept but a little less in the actual playing, and some listeners will prefer the combination of monumentality, atmosphere and intensity that Bernstein provides in his Concertgebouw reading.
Ancerl’s Till Eulenspiegel resembles his Mahler – sane and musical, ultimately satisfying but a little short on character, and hardly in the same league as Szell’s bitingly witty treatment of the piece. David Breckbill