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Smetana: Ma Vlast / Norrington, London Classical Players

Release Date: 11/04/1997 
Label:  Virgin Classics Special Import Catalog #: 45301   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Frantisek Jan SkroupBedrich Smetana
Conductor:  Roger Norrington
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Classical Players
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 17 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Smetana's Má vlast represents the Lisztian tone-poem at its most imposing and although based on Czech national legend, is fairly universal in its use of melody, orchestral colour and dramatic rhetoric. Some commentators lose interest after "From Bohemia's Woods and Fields" (the fourth piece in the set), claiming mere bombast and gestural overkill for the more patriotic "Blanik" and "Tabor"; but a really gripping performance binds all six pieces together in the manner of an extended symphony. "Vltava" is the best-known single movement, "Sarka" the most musically impressive and the work as a whole surely exerted an immense influence on film-music composers in the 1930s and 1940s. Read more />
Roger Norrington claims that his interpretation of Má vlast "fuses personal view with historical fact", a strategy designed to make the work "young again". To facilitate this goal, he returns to original sources, uses instruments of the period and prefaces his performance with the Czech National Anthem (a local tradition). The net result is certainly interesting, with countless points of textual illumination, separated violin desks, clearly divided harps in "Vysehrad" and a rustic, homespun texture to full tutti passages that frequently invites comparison with a village band (not at all inappropriately). The balance of forces favours the brass, woodwinds and percussion, so that some key passages — such as the tumbledown penultimate climax of "Vysehrad", at 901" into track I — suffer from partially obscured string lines. "Vltava" witnesses some revealing interpretative reportage: crystal-clear harp triplets from 1'29", prominent horns for the "Hunt in the Woods" (2'54") and serene pianissimo high strings for the nymphs at 5'30" (though the trombones at 650" are hardly ppp possible and the pin mow finale is just a little too fast). "Sarka" — that vengeful Amazon — is at her most impressive where brass and timpani have the upper hand, but although Norrington's refusal to rush counters the more erratic freedoms indulged by, say, Rafael Kubelik (most notably in Vienna), the 'love music' section (3'42") sounds comparatively earthbound and the dance that follows rather too soft-grained. However, the hammering final chords effect an impressive crescendo (Talich's war-time recording, due out soon on Biddulph, is similarly compelling) and attentive ears will hear plenty of unfamiliar textural incident elsewhere.

-- Gramophone [11/1997]
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Works on This Recording

Where is my home? by Frantisek Jan Skroup
Conductor:  Roger Norrington
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Classical Players
Period: Romantic 
Written: 19th Century; Bohemia 
Date of Recording: 05/1996 
Venue:  No 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London, England 
Notes: This is the Czech national anthem, Kde domov muj?
Má vlast by Bedrich Smetana
Conductor:  Roger Norrington
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Classical Players
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1874; Czech Republic 
Date of Recording: 05/1996 
Venue:  No 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London, England 

Sound Samples

National Anthem of the Czech Republic
Má Vlast: I. Vysehrad
Má Vlast: II. Vltava
Má Vlast: III. Sárka
Má Vlast: IV. Z ceskych luhu a haju
Má Vlast: V. Tábor
Má Vlast: VI. Blaník

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