DVORAK: Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 “From the New World”; MOZART: Symphony No. 38 in D Major, K. 504 “Prague” – Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Rafael Kubelik
Opus Kura OPK 7051, 62:13 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
Opus Kura resurrects two legendary recordings from the Mercury LP vaults (here via HMV) both led by Rafael Kubelik (1914-1996), whose tenure with the Chicago Symphony produced some miraculous results despite the vitriolic reception he received from Chicago’s music critic, Claudia Cassidy.
Kubelik’s fast-paced New World Symphony dates from 19 November 1951 at Orchestra Hall, under the recording direction of David Hall. A single-microphone process involved a Telefunken instrument in concert with an Ampex tape machine. Kubelik did not take the first movement repeat, setting a furious pace that George Szell in Cleveland would rival in his own inscription for Epic some years later. The English horn of the second movement carries a distant appeal, heimweh, for a faraway time and place. Kubelik favors a long line, shaping the Largo for its classical approach to melancholy. The later material offered by the flute and trumpets, echoing the first movement, conveys new possibilities but no less a shadow of regret. The intimacy of the “Goin’ Home” motif, with its starts and stops, its chamber music intimacy, becomes quite affecting.
The Scherzo’s accents, especially in the tympani part, prove focused and potent. The Native American invocations and nature calls pulsate in plastic harmony in the secondary section, the basic tempo returning with enhanced fury. The sense of restraint in the Trio becomes an unleashed furiant in the da capo, the trumpets and tympani competing for dominance. What does impress is the burnished tone of the CSO cello and viola sections, which balance strong legato playing with wicked attacks in the dance-rhythmical passages. The Finale hurtles forth with a refreshed sense of confidence, close to the spirit of the late Tchaikovsky symphonies Four and Five. The miking picks up the tympani and cymbals’ added colors to the pageant that unfolds in mighty surges. The CSO brass establish here, in the early fifties, their capacities as a marvel among orchestral trumpet and horn sections. Kubelik permits a romantic slide or two to infiltrate the haunted string line prior to the last throes of convulsive vainglorious heroism that punctuate the final pages.
Kubelik recorded Mozart’s 1787 Prague Symphony 3 April 1953 utilizing a large ensemble from the CSO, typical of the period. The stately slow introduction to the opening Adagio–Allegro enjoys a high resonance, especially from the strings, oboes, and flutes. The highly organized treatment of six melodies in various contrapuntal groupings appeals to the intellectual side of Kubelik’s energetic temperament, the melody set in floridly brilliant running figures, major and minor. That the melody becomes employed in a series of codettas is reason enough to revere the masterly virtuosity of Mozart’s writing. The fleet, aerial quality of the CSO, virtuosic without heaviness, sells this performance as among Kubelik’s most fluid realizations. The G Major Andante moves in a lithe 6/8 with occasional affecting excursions in the minor keys. Though without a minuet and thus allied to the archaic form of opera overture, the Prague Symphony never lacks for both depth and vibrant wit of expression. The etched phrases in this CSO performance bear a likeness to the Viennese reading of this work by Karl Bohm, which places Kubelik in the midst of a strong Mozart tradition. Once more, Mozart’s flute work commands our attention, as does the sheer gloss of the CSO inscription. The last movement Presto in D, 2/4, sets a magnificent series of runs for flute, bassoon, and dazzling strings and tympani, all whipped in a lavish Bohemian brew to Mozart’s worldly taste. The deft athletic performance from Kubelik and the CSO quite seizes our ears and our hearts, a tour de force on all counts. By the way, for his last appearance in Prague, October 11, 1991, Kubelik once more programmed this most “fateful” of Mozart symphonies.