Smetana/Skroup

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Smetana/Skroup
LABELS: Virgin Veritas
WORKS: Má vlast; Kde domov muj? (Czech national anthem)
PERFORMER: London Classical Players/Roger Norrington
CATALOGUE NO: VC 5 45301 2
Most recordings of this glorious music live under the shadow of Kubelík’s triumphant return to the 1990 Prague Spring Festival (recorded on Supraphon) but here is something rather different, and, in its own way, equally tantalising. Norrington and his period band were unusually honoured by being invited to Prague to open proceedings in 1996. This Abbey Road studio recording cannot recapture that sense of occasion but the sparks of dedication ignite a performance that makes the music sound fresh-minted.

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A string section limited to 46 players using gut strings does not match the opulence of the Czech Philharmonic but neither is it anaemically inadequate. Vltava’s big violin theme cannot bloom and surge as it does with a large modern orchestra, but, in the context of the complete sound-picture, it never seems undernourished. Norrington is very much at home with the more rhetorical aspects of the score: blood-curdling trombones are aptly gothic in Sárka, the great Hussite chorale of Blaník blazes with total conviction. On the other hand, rustic and elfin passages can rarely have sounded more Mendelssohnian.

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Once over the ‘shock of the old’ which is the refreshment offered by period-conscious performances, this is a splendidly enjoyable disc. One to complement rather than supersede the Kubelík. David Wilkins