WORKS: Orchestral Works, Vol. 2: The Bartered Bride – excerpts; The Devil’s Wall – excerpts; The Brandenburgers in Bohemia – excerpts; The Two Widows – excerpts etc
PERFORMER: BBC Philharmonic/Gianandrea Noseda
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10518
Mention Smetana and opera, and most people, understandably, think of The Bartered Bride’s dancing exuberance. But the Bride was only one step in the composer’s lifelong, often self-destructive, drive to develop a native Czech opera tradition, free from overpowering German influence – a conflict his first opera, The Brandenburgers in Bohemia, embodies in a style that, though still a little unsophisticated, is strikingly dramatic.
This blossomed in Smetana’s next and greatest operas, yet the lyrical tragedy Dalibor, a great hymn to friendship, is rarely performed outside his homeland, and even there, relatively few will ever see Libu≥e, the story of Bohemia’s legendary prophetess-queen, who married a humble ploughman.
Even the composer’s later operas, in which he successfully returned to the Bride’s light-opera charm, are rare, although The Two Widows has been successful at Wexford and in Scotland. All the more valuable, therefore, is this sampler from the versatile Gianandrea Noseda, whose glossy, vibrant performances more than hint at what we’re missing.
If only the selection could be different – less of the Bride, easily available elsewhere, and more Dalibor? – although that’s probably unavoidable with such a wealth of material. This is a fine way to begin exploring it. Michael Scott Rohan