– Czech Philharmonic Orchestra (Benda, Suk)/ Prague Soloists Orchestra (Dvorak)/ Slovak Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra (Tchaikovsky)/Vaclav Talich
Supraphon SU 3836-2, 73:36 (Distrib. Qualiton) ****:
Inscriptions made 1950-1954 in the chamber music medium from Vaclav Talich (1883-1961), of which the two Tchaikovsky transcriptions are entirely new to the CD format. The lovely Dvorak Serenade in E (28 April 1951) remains virtually unsurpassed as a rendering of beautifully balanced phrases, a world at peace with itself, despite Talich personal trials under a hateful political regime. When I pursued pianist Ivan Moravec on the subject of Talich’s persecutions by the Communists, he replied, “Well they assassinated Gandhi, didn’t they?” The Suk Serenade derives from sessions earlier that year (19-21 February 1951), again a testament to an unhurried innocence of style, buttressed by glowing, burnished string sound. Clean, joyful music-making on every level, a testament to young players’ love of their conductor. If the second movement Valse of the Dvorak sizzles in its attacks, the corresponding movement in Suk enchants us with a song of endless summer. The third movement Adagio in Suk conveys Talich’s fondness in old age for his memories of the Czech Quartet. In both string serenades, the violas and cellos create an organ sonority that Moravec characterized as “magical. . .just as powerful as anything in Furtwaengler, if perhaps a tad more academic.”
The Benda Sinfonietta (30 March 1954), an exquisitely fashioned miniature, appeared as part of EMI’s Great Conductors of the 20th Century series, after an elusive life as a Supraphon LP. The music of Tchaikovsky had for Talich a distinct resonance that he cultivated; whether an actual inscription exists of the Symphony No. 4 with Talich is still speculative, but someone ought to transfer to CD his collaboration with Winifred Wolf of the B-flat Minor Piano Concerto. From June 18-20 1950 we have two orchestral renderings of small Tchaikovsky works, the Andante cantabile (1871) from the D Major Quartet long a concert or encore staple. Rather literally realized, the Talich performance proceeds with stately elegance, noble measure. No wonder Tolstoy shed a tear at this music in the presence of the composer. The little Song Without Words (1868) plays as a balletic gavotte with strings, harp, brass, and woodwinds, the pluckings and pipings as lyrical as any Slavonic Dance in the Talich repertoire. It makes us wish we had excerpts from the composer’s great ballets with this master, Talich.
— Gary Lemco