Talich Special Edition 8 Supraphon SU 3828-2, 63:25 (Distrib. Qualiton) ****:
Vaclav Talich recorded the two excerpts from Tristan 9-11 April 1953 with the Prague Radio Symphony, an ensemble to which he had been appointed advisor earlier that year. Having vacated his post with the Slovak Philharmonic in Bratislava, Talich was glad of the opportunity to inscribe pieces with which he had toured Russian in 1922-1923. We have, much to our regret, no operatic work with Talich, none of his beloved stage dramas by Mozart, Smetana, Beethoven, Wagner, and Moussorgsky. The Tristan excerpt makes a special point of lingering over each phrase, stretching the musical line as sensuously as anything by Celibidache or Furtwaengler. The CPO brass warrant special mention for the high, smooth line they maintain behind the surging strings and woodwinds. A sheer tapestry of sound, inflamed, phantasmal, erupts, as though Talich knew this would be his only testament in this musical style. Isolde’s Love-Death rises out of weeping tremolandi and a swooping cello line. The momentum does not abate; Talich urges the amorous paroxysms upward, the harps and horns engulfed in a string cocoon worthy of Stokowski.
Talich recorded the Pathetique 8-11 July 1953, a performance of both energetic power and stylistic brilliance. Talich unabashedly championed Tchaikovsky’s music, and collectors still await a restoration of the Piano Concerto with Winifred Wolf. Without urging particularly slow, dragging tempos, Talich realizes a noble, dignified Adagio from the first movement, the inner lines distinctly clear, the horn and string line seamless. The ensuing Allegro, with its whiplash fate-motif, invokes a thunderous tympani part and string syncopations that verge of hallucinations. Here, Talich sounds more like Mengelberg in one of his furious moments. The transition, the graduated crescendo, rivals what Furtwaengler accomplished in 1938 Berlin and again in 1951 Egypt. Stunning intensity as we fall through the abyss to the recapitulation. Clarinet and tympani carry us to the lachrymose dirge that concludes this fitful fever.
The 5/4 Allegro con grazia is all mellow sonority, piping winds, sweet strings, translucent pizzicati. Nutcracker sensibilities superimposed on horns of some heraldic power. The trio section becomes a dirge, a melancholy receptacle for broken dreams. More woodwind energy for the Allegro molto vivace, a scintillating Scherzo with militant ambitions, but perpetually struggling from inner harmonic tensions. Wonderful orchestral definition in the strings and horns, moving from staccato figures to arco, the winds piping out the main march theme. A ferocious tympani roll starts the ineluctable momentum anew, until we reach a tragically glorious peroration. The Dantesque plunge, de profundis, into the depths of personal night make this thrilling performance emblematic of Talich’s own hard fate at the hands of the Soviets after WW II. The enclosed booklet pictures of Talich with his friend and colleague Shostakovich say it better, though I spent a thousand words.
— Gary Lemco