Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Concerto No. 4
Symphony No. 5
Rafael Kubelík, cond; Rudolf Firku?ný (pn);
TESTAMENT 1421, mono (71:47) Live: Edinburgh 8/30/1957
This is a tremendous
document of the work of the great Rafael Kubelík (1914–1996). The present disc presents performances from the 1957 Edinburgh Festival, the second of three evenings the orchestra gave (the others were fronted by Otto Klemperer and Eugene Ormandy).
Apparently, according to Alan Sanders’s excellent booklet notes, the Dvo?ák was unkindly received by the critic of the
, Neville Cardus. Heard again, over half a century later, one can only sit back and enjoy Kubelík’s affectionate way with the piece. The recording allows much detail through, although it can muddy in the bass (a problem when lower strings are asked to scurry away). Interesting that not so long ago Marin Alsop recorded the work for Naxos (8.570714) with another British orchestra, the London Philharmonic, giving a reading that was highly enjoyable on its own terms. Kubelík, though, whilst not as neat in ensemble terms, realizes the work’s jubilation as well as its grittiness in truer fashion. If you already own Kubelík’s 1974 DG Bavarian recording (currently on a value-for-money three-CD box, 469366), this reading will act as a delightful adjunct.
The performance of the Martin? was in fact the European premiere of this two-movement piece. Firku?ný regularly partnered Kubelík, and their rapport is evident in every measure. The piano-writing is virtuoso, and Firku?ný plays with a technique that is as strong and reliable as it is subservient to the musical substance. The mysterious atmosphere conjured up at the outset of the second movement is truly memorable, as is Firku?ný’s assurance generally (he seems particularly secure when perilous wide left-hand leaps are called for). Firku?ný’s wide variety of touch seems particularly appropriate to Martin?’s more impressionistic passages.
Firku?ný recorded this piece again in 1993 with the Czech PO and Pe?ek (on RCA and apparently not currently available), but the sheer historical weight of this live Philharmonia account lends it a particular specialness.
Beethoven’s most famous offspring forms a Germanic counterbalance to the Czech flavor of the concert’s first part. The Fifth Symphony is given a determined reading. Here though, where focus really is required, the recording emerges as rather swimmy, and some detail is lost or blurred, with timpani definition suffering in particular (full-orchestra climaxes in the second movement, too, lose their punch). The first movement manages to retain much of its dynamism through Kubelík’s forward thrust, though, and there is no doubting the suave playing of the Andante con moto. The Scherzo is involving, and almost certainly was even more so live, where one could easily forgive some slips in ensemble (not so easy to forgive in one’s living room, of course). The finale, if not quite the blaze of C-Major light one hopes for, is nonetheless grand, and includes the repeat. This is not a great Fifth in the manner of Carlos Kleiber or Furtwängler, make no mistake, but it remains a fascinating one.
Incidentally, it was after this particular group of concerts that the greatest of all modern-day horn-players, Dennis Brain, lost his life in a car accident while driving back to London.
FANFARE: Colin Clarke
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Piano no 4 "Incantations" by Bohuslav Martinu
Rudolf Firkusny (Piano)
Length: 17 Minutes 43 Secs.
Symphony no 5 in C minor, Op. 67 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Length: 32 Minutes 32 Secs.
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