This attractive three-disc set claims to present the "complete" overtures and tone poems, and it does nothing of the kind. What it does offer is the best-known of them, along with the Czech Suite and Symphonic Variations. Absent is the excellent early Symphonic Poem (Rhapsody) Op. 18, the Dramatic Overture, and all of the free-standing opera overtures (The Cunning Peasant and Dimitrij especially). As long as we have that straight, we can move right on to the performances, which for the most part are very good indeed. Theodore Kuchar, as anyone will know from his Naxos recordings, is an extremely exciting and talented conductor, and his take-no-prisoners approach works very well in this colorful music. He blasts through theRead more Carnival and Hussite Overtures with uninhibited abandon. His performance of the Symphonic Variations is thrilling, as cogently flowing as any, and it concludes with the best, most powerfully roof-raising final fugue that I ever hope to hear.
The other works, especially the big tone poems, also benefit from Kuchar's enthusiasm and drive. Othello (here for some reason using Verdi's spelling: "Otello") has passion and atmosphere aplenty. The Water Goblin (the cymbal part not quite sorted out--Kubelik and Neumann get it right), the Noonday Witch, and the Wood Dove are all extremely graphic and richly evocative. Kuchar holds The Golden Spinning Wheel together as well as anyone, while A Hero's Song makes an aptly triumphant, indeed hair-raising conclusion to the whole set. The playing of the Janácek Philharmonic Orchestra is very committed and gutsy. At these tempos the ensemble sometimes sounds a bit stressed, which isn't bad in and of itself, but the lower brass could have more power, and the engineering, sometimes a bit biased toward the left channel, places the cymbals surprisingly off-mike, which robs some of the climaxes (in the Hussite Overture, for example) of the impact they must have had live.
Still, it would be wrong to say that the playing is crude or in any way sub-standard. The winds phrase their solos characterfully in the Romanza of the Czech Suite, for example, and it's clear that they know this music well (heaven knows, they should!). If the performances were any less exciting, this set would rate a 7, or perhaps an 8, but Kuchar's contribution takes the whole enterprise to a higher level. Just understand that this is not going to be, say, the Czech Philharmonic under Mackerras or the Concertgebouw with Harnoncourt, to cite two recent outstanding releases containing some of the same repertoire. For me, though, and I suspect for many listeners, the sheer gusto of the playing carries the day and trumps all minor qualms. Besides, at the Brilliant Classics price you really can't lose--but I would love to hear what Kuchar could do at the helm of a truly world-class ensemble. [11/08/2004]
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
Czech Suite in D major, Op. 39/B 93by Antonín Dvorák Conductor:
Ostrava Janácek Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic Written: 1879; Bohemia Venue: Ostrava, Czech Republic Length: 21 Minutes 49 Secs. Notes: Ostrava, Czech Republic (08/20/2004 - 08/28/2004)
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