Symphonic poems: Vysehrad, The Moldau, Sarka, From Bohemia’s Woods and Fields, Tabor, Blanik
Performers: Rafael Kubelik conducts the Symphony Orchestra of the Bavarian Radio
Studio: Medici Arts/EuroArts 2072388 (Distr. by Naxos)
Video: 4:3 full screen color
Audio: German DTS 5.1, DD 5.1, PCM Stereo
No Region Code
Extras: Introductory slideshow on Smetana and the music plus short interview with Kubelik (11 min.); Previews of other Medici Arts DVDs
Length: 82 minutes
From the striking view of Prague on the cover of the new DVD I was looking forward to a concert performance with minimal shots of the orchestra performing and most of the content a travelogue along the Moldau and images tied in with Czech history and the music. That is the content of the very first laserdisc I ever purchased: a Japanese Pioneer laserdisc with Vaclav Neumann conducting The Czech Philharmonic Orchestra at the 1981 Prague Spring International Music Festival. The images are lovely and well illustrate the stirring music of this major work which has such emotional connection to the Czech peoples.
The DVD is merely a straightforward, though skilled, presentation of the work videotaped in 1984, only three years after the Neumann version. It is less washed-out and dated looking than the laserdisc, but the DTS surround sound would have to have been derived from a two-channel original, and it is no better than the CX stereo soundtrack of the laserdisc run thru ProLogic II for surround effect.
Both conductors were closely associated with this work which Smetana intended as a musical tribute to his homeland, Kubelik perhaps more prominently. (The laserdisc performance was recorded in the Czech Philharmonic’s hall in Prague, so that version has a closer Czech connection. It also includes a bonus track of Neumann rehearsing the orchestra.) The German musicians do a glorious job of the familiar Moldau movement, and their brass section does yeoman work on the rich sounds of the Tabor and Blanik concluding movements of the work. There’s many good closeups of Kubelik in action on the podium. It’s surprising to realize that the composer was completely deaf when he wrote the work, just as with Beethoven. And shortly afterwards he succumbed to mental disease. This is a most stirring concert video, but I’m keeping my laserdisc version as well.
– John Sunier