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Dvorak: Slavonic Rhapsodies, Symphonic Variations - Hrůša

Dvorak: Slavonic Rhapsodies, Symphonic Variations - Hrůša

PentaTone Classics  PTC 5186 554

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Dvorak: Slavonic Rhapsodies, Symphonic Variations

PKF - Prague Philharmonia
Jakub Hrůša (conductor)


For the third of his three-album series for PENTATONE, the young rising star Jakub Hrůša conducts the PKF-Prague Philharmonia in an all Dvořák programme of appealing orchestral works comprising the evergreen favourite Symphonic Variations Op. 78 coupled with the lesser known Slavonic Rhapsodies Op. 45.

Already established as a tireless promoter of Czech music, Jakub Hrůša was the inaugural winner in 2015 of the Sir Charles Mackerras Prize for his advocacy of Janáček’s works, going on to receive ecstatic reviews in 2016 for Glyndebourne Opera’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen. One reviewer enthused that Hrůša “clearly has this music in his bones and blood … he asks for (and gets) an urgent, raw and abrasive quality, expressive of nothing less than the life force itself.” (The Telegraph, 13 June 2016).

This new release builds on the critical success of his earlier releases in the series. The first album of Dvořák and Lalo cello concertos was selected by Gramophone for its monthly Editor’s Choice which noted that “the recorded sound is, like the playing, absolutely top-notch” (September 2015). HR Audio also praised the album of Dvořák orchestral music for performances that were “splendidly vital, stylish and beautifully shaped” (February 2016). In this third album, Dvorak’s unfailing gift for appealing melodies, potent rhythms and colourful orchestration are put on full display, especially in his Symphonic Variations, one of the most popular set of orchestral variations in the repertoire. Starting with a rather simple and seemingly unpromising theme, Dvořák weaves his customary magic in a series of ingenious and often witty variations which culminates in a suitably exuberant and rousing conclusion. No less winning are the three Slavonic Rhapsodies; these loosely structured and evocative character pieces were hugely popular in his day and have lost none of their power to captivate listeners.

“What else could I wish as a Czech conductor with my Czech orchestra?” says Hrůša. “I’m really happy that PENTATONE invited us to do these recordings … wonderful melodies, great rhythms, charming dances but with some depth and real drama.”

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Review by Graham Williams - October 26, 2016

Over many years the relentless internationalization of orchestras has inexorably led towards a disappointing anonymity and lack of individuality in their sonority. It is, therefore, refreshing to listen to an orchestra, like the PKF - Prague Philharmonia that has retained something of the characteristic 'Czech sound' of yore and is able to bring that special quality to performances of their native music.

As on their previous two releases for the PENTATONE label the PKF - Prague Philharmonia and conductor Jakub Hrůša feature works by Dvorak – the popular Symphonic Variations Op.78 and the three Slavonic Rhapsodies Op.45, the latter appearing for the first time on SACD.

Hrůša's affectionate account of the Symphonic Variations unfolds at an easy-going pace and relaxed manner, allowing appreciation of Dvorak's delectable scoring and wealth of invention during the course of the theme and the twenty seven variations that follow. The woodwind playing has all the character one has come to expect from these musicians, but while some listeners will perhaps wish for more impetus in a couple of the faster sections, Hrůša's attention to detail is most rewarding and fully justifies his carefully considered approach. The work is provided with eight helpful cue points, seven of which encompass small groups of variations while one is allotted to the fugal Finale.

What, however, makes this SACD especially desirable is the inclusion of the three Slavonic Rhapsodies that occupy two thirds of the disc. Dvorak wrote these in 1878 following the success of his first set of Slavonic Dances and though they were highly regarded and often performed during the composer's lifetime they rarely appear in the concert hall and not that often on disc. This is perplexing, as all three are attractive pieces, brimful of the beautiful melodies, infectious dance rhythms and gripping drama that is to be found in the composer's more familiar works. Each rhapsody (lasting around 13 minutes) has its own distinct musical character and they could be considered as tone poems without a specific programme, though they are unmistakably Dvorak. The first rhapsody in D major has cheerful folksy character, the second in G minor is more dramatic and stormy while the third, that opens with a harp solo making it strikingly reminiscent of the start of Vyšehrad from Smetana's 'Má Vlast', is joyful and optimistic.

Hrůša's performances of these pieces abound with charm and flare. All three benefit from the conductor's sprightly tempi and wonderfully idiomatic sound he elicits from his responsive orchestra, while the freshness of the playing by these musicians should endear these neglected Slavonic Rhapsodies to a much wider audience.

The whole production is enhanced by the warmth and clarity of PENTATONE's impeccable 5.0 multi-channel DSD recording that convincingly captures the ambience of the reverberant acoustic of the Forum Karlin in Prague without any blurring of orchestral detail.

Copyright © 2016 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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Comment by hiredfox - December 2, 2016 (1 of 2)

Graham said: "Over many years the relentless internationalization of orchestras has inexorably led towards a disappointing anonymity and lack of individuality in their sonority".

How very very true and perfectly apposite. Very well said indeed.

We live in an age of increasingly error-free high technical precision performances by legions of no-name master musicians who play perfectly but often without distinctive characterisation. Everyone is scared of making mistakes and so take few risks. Careers stand or fall by market success. Many must wish it was not like this but we are where we are. Even in our own field many collectors are heavily guided by reviews and ratings to seek out 'best versions' of recordings rather than rely on their own ears.

It has its exact parallels in bland look-a-like high streets and shopping malls and in international sport - soccer is a perfect exemplar - where all teams play alike but nobody excels. It is becoming increasingly more difficult to be surprised, we seem to be in an inexorable decline to some LCD.

The wise man said that variety is the spice of life.

Comment by Wartybliggens - December 24, 2016 (2 of 2)

This album seems to be passing by under the radar, but I just got my hands on it finally and it's fantastic. I recognized the Symphonic Variations but did not know it very well, while the other music it turns out I had never heard. Lucky for me, my first time hearing it was this incredibly lifelike and punchy recording! The previous Dvorak recording by this lineup was one of my favorites this year, and this is certainly at the same level musically. As for the sonics, this has to be one of the best captures of an orchestra I've yet heard, and I have piles of surround SACDs.