DVORAK: Hussite Overture, Op. 67; BRAHMS: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77 – Henryk Szeryng, violin/ Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/ Rafael Kubelik – Orfeo C220081 (51:30) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
The two works here captured from the Bavarian Radio Konzerthaus Wien, 11 June 1967, by Dvorak and his idol Brahms, find us confronted by outstanding musicians, violinist Henryk Szeryng (1918-1988) and conductor Rafael Kubelik (1914-1996). Henryk Szerying had been asked, were he aware he had but one hour left to live, how he would spend it: “By playing the Brahms Violin Concerto,” he replied without hesitation. The Hussite Overture (1883) of Antonin Dvorak, for Kubelik, embodied the passionate, national spirit of his Czech homeland. The concert overture would mark the opening of the new Czech National Theatre on 18 November 1883. So much of its dramatic content rings with elements from Smetana’s Ma Vlast, that the colossal energies vibrate with the resolve of a people determined to resist all forms of oppression.
The Hussite Overture had been intended by Dvorak to serve as part of a patriotic trilogy set in the era of the Hussite Wars of Religion, a dramatic triptych, stage play that would fuse the idea of national emancipation – particularly from Germany – and the martyrdom of Jan Hus (c. 1370-1415), and his struggle for religious and personal freedom. Alternately hymnal and elegiac, the overture allows the Bavarian Radio wind players their lyrical due before the equally luxurious string section makes it entrance. The active, folk elements soon blend with brass and percussion, and Kubelik lavishes his sculpted attentions on Dvorak’s generous capacity for melody. There are five themes involved in the progress of this epic concert piece, rife with the sounds of battle, specifically the tragic Battle of Lipany in 1434. The piece ends with an athletic march greeted by the hearty applause of the concert audience.
The long association of Polish-Mexican violin virtuoso Henryk Szeryng with the 1878 Violin Concerto of Johannes Brahms has become, by virtue of a pantheon of recorded collaborations, virtually definitive. Kubelik takes the opening tutti – and the entire movement – in a leisurely, thoughtful manner, emphasizing the growing intensity that culminates in Szeryng’s explosive entry, with razor-sharp intonation over the woodwinds that support and decorate the melodic outline. The accompanying string and horn work is pure warmth, to suit the no less plastic lyricism from Szeryng. We recall how much Brahms and dedicatee Joseph Joachim admired the A Minor Concerto No. 22 of the very Giovanni Batista Viotti who inaugurated the French style of violin playing Szeryng inherited. The conceptual largesse of the first movement embraces all of the Brahms periods, their luxurious, nostalgic moments and their epic, dark convulsions. The clarity and authority in Szeryng’s delivery, his flawless transitions, might well become required listening and study for all adherents of this monumental work. The first movement cadenza enjoys a stratospheric elegance, leading, seamlessly, to the re-entry of the Bavarian players led by an inspired conductor.
The well-known Adagio in F and its oboe melody may have rankled Pablo de Sarasate, but we have no such reservations. The uncredited Bavarian player and his French horn and flute counterparts create a loving aura for Szeryng to enter on equally rapt terms. The entire, nine-minute slow movement evolves as an unbroken song, ardent, introspective, and unapologetically passionate, especially in the central episode, in the remote key of F# Minor. The finale, a Hungarian rondo, Allegro giocoso, in shifting, duple and triple meter, abounds with virtuoso flair and piercing accents, the very meat of Szeryng’s gypsy style. Kubelik here relishes in the work’s aggressive, “symphonic” style, investing the tuttis with explosive power alternated with quiet, even intimate, nuances. The final gambit in the coda, its switch to 6/8 for a “Turkish” effect a la Mozart, has Szeryng and Kubelik exchanging voluptuous power for acerbic wit, and the effect up through the triplets and final chords, has the enthralled audience in a concerted uproar of appreciation. A more-than-historical document, heartily recommended.