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Here is yet another fine release from the Buffalo Philharmonic under its dynamic and enterprising conductor, JoAnn Falletta. All three of these works have been recorded before, almost exclusively by Czech artists, but the excellence of these performances shows, if any proof were necessary, that great music is unconstrained by national borders. Take the Lady Godiva Overture, and compare this version to the otherwise fine Libor Pesek with the BBC Philharmonic on Chandos. Falletta is clearly superior: swifter, more exciting, and every bit as well played and recorded.
The symphonic poems In the Tatra Mountains and Eternal Longing similarly have a long recorded history, dating back to the 1950s with Karel Sejna and Frantisek Stupka leading the Czech Philharmonic. These versions more than hold their own: they are just as confidently shaped, and of course far better recorded. More modern releases, from Pesek in Liverpool or Jílek and his Brno forces, may be difficult to source, and in any case don’t improve on Falletta and Buffalo to any marked degree.
Finally, a word on the music itself. Novák was a very highly accomplished composer. His music is “solid,” in the best sense. You always have a sense that he knows exactly what he’s doing: his forms make logical sense, his scoring is colorful and perfectly judged, and his thematic material is always distinguished, if not always distinctive–and therein lies the problem. His music often has an elusive quality–you might call it “elitist”–that has probably kept it from achieving greater popularity. It’s recognizably Czech, but not “folksy,” even when it employs folk-derived idioms. Especially in his nature-inspired pieces, you may find him akin to Delius, only with more muscle and a Slavic accent. To make its strongest impression, you need to live with it for a while. This release removes any excuse not to.
– ClassicsToday (David Hurwitz)