Vaclav Talich Conducts Dvorak, Suk – Czech Philharmonic Orchestra – Parnassus

by | Sep 7, 2023 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Vaclav Talich conducts: DVORAK: Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88; SUK: Serenade for Strings in E Major, Op. 8/Czech Philharmonic Orchestra – Parnassus PACL 95012 (63:56) [] *****:

Parnassus resuscitates classic recordings by Czech conducting master Vaclav Talich (1883-1961), noted for his viscerally clear and illuminated readings of music by Dvorak and other Bohemian composers. The documents in question, the 1935 Dvorak Eighth Symphony and the 1938 Suk Serenade, had been issued earlier, in 1991/2 by Naxos, as edited by Mark Obert-Thorn. Here, Parnassus employs Gene Gaudette and Paul Arden-Taylor for the gloriously vivid sonic document before us.

The biographical data on conductor Vaclav Talich present a depressing, if uplifting, tale of heroism under the most debilitating of political conditions, imposed, respectively by the Nazi and Communist authorities. The Nazis forbade the playing of Czech nationalist works, such as Ma Vlast, even as Talich defied these bans. After WW II, the Communists accused Talich of having cooperated with the Nazis, and they denied him work and even a food-book. Talich’s former students provided him sustenance out of affectionate devotion. 

Eventually, although denied access to the concert halls, Talich was permitted to make recordings for the state-supervised Supraphon label for propaganda purposes. The few appearances Talich did make before an orchestra were, according to pianist Ivan Moravec, nothing short of miraculous. “You had to be seated in the hall in Prague to believe the authority of sound Talich produced, of which even his best records are a mere shadow. It was as powerful as anything from Furtwaengler, if perhaps a bit more academic.”

The Suk 1892 Serenade for Strings results from a recommendation from Dvorak, Suk’s future father-in-law, to create an optimistic piece. The four movements correspond in several respects to Dvorak’s own Serenade in E, Op. 22. The plastic, luminous sheen that the Czech Philharmonic players project justifies the enduring repute this recording has maintained. The combination of aerial transparency and briskness of attacks creates an immediate, spontaneous effect, augmented by the violin solo playing of Alexander Plocek. 

The Dvorak G Major Symphony, composed for the composer’s reception in England, has long enjoyed happy readings, from the likes of Talich and Bruno Walter. The authority of the Czech Philharmonic woodwinds proves especially luminous, both in the second and third movements. The violin solos by Stanislas Novak contribute to a reading that remains, at once, intimate and epic. Talich’s ability to mold Dvorak’s evolving melodic line while never relaxing the presence of supporting open-work and orchestral polyphony remains the miracle of his art. The strength of that melodic flow makes itself ardently manifest in the trio section of the waltz-like Allegretto grazioso third movement. The subtle application of rubato and portamento add to the old-world flavor of a performance that simultaneously retains its modernity. The outer movements possess a fervent, occasionally demonic, energy, the Czech brass and strings projected in blended harmony. We never cease to appreciate Dvorak’s sense of pantheistic ecstasy. The seamless progression of the original shellacs, as they had for Mark Obert-Thorn, belie the age of these incandescent recordings, and I urge any admirer of masterful orchestral leadership to acquire this and any sound documents that may appear in the future.

—Gary Lemco

More information through Alto CD

Album Cover for Talich Conducts Dvorak #8, Suk Serenade

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