Smetana: Má vlast

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Smetana
LABELS: Supraphon
WORKS: Má vlast
PERFORMER: Czech PO/Charles Mackerras
CATALOGUE NO: SU 3465-2
Má vlast (My Country) has a major iconic significance for Czechs: not only does it celebrate the nation’s history, mythology and natural beauty, it invariably initiates the Prague Spring Festival. Thus, a performance by the Czech Philharmonic conducted by one of the greatest living exponents of Czech repertoire is clearly an event.

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On one level Mackerras’s reading is revelatory, on another slightly disappointing. In both cases the key is moderation. Supported by the remarkable clarity of the recorded sound, the orchestral colours shine as never before. The downside is that the thrill factor is in short supply: Mackerras avoids militaristic histrionics in the last two numbers, but the inspirational quality that makes Kubelík’s last recording, from that glorious spring after the Velvet Revolution, the most passionately motivated and compelling available, is also lacking.

Mackerras’s reading is untouched by sentimentality, which pays huge dividends in From Bohemia’s Woods and Fields, but the same approach also tends to mute the passion in Šárka’s love scene. His perceptive, slightly inward-looking reading of Vyšehrad, entirely suited to a more reflective Czech nation ten years after liberation, is deeply impressive – the finest performance of the cycle.

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Uwe Mund’s reading of Má vlast has virtues, but damagingly lacks drama, notably at the start of Blaník where the Hussites’ retreat has all the urgency of an afternoon trot. Though flawed, Mackerras’s thoughtful recording is in a different class, even if it doesn’t touch the soul as directly as Kubelík. Jan Smaczny