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Dvořák: Overtures - Hrůša

Dvořák: Overtures - Hrůša

PentaTone Classics  PTC 5186532

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Antonin Dvořák:
Nature, Life and Love (Příroda, Život a Láska)
My Home (Můj Domov)
Hussite (Husitská)

PKF - Prague Philharmonia
Jakub Hrůša


For a large part, thanks to the effort of Johannes Brahms, who introduced him to his publisher Simrock, Czech composer Antonín Dvořák developed into a composer with an international reputation. Don’t we all know his Slavonic Dances, his Symphonies or his chamber music, such as the Dumky Trio or the American string quartet? This album reveals some of the more hidden treasures of Dvořák’s repertoire, namely his overtures, of which he wrote no less than thirteen. In the booklet to the album they are described as follows:

All five overtures on this recording are richly and vividly scored, employing palettes of instruments broader on average than those found in Dvořák’s mature symphonies and sometimes calling for special effects. For their orchestral colour but also their rich expression of poetic content, as well as their purely musical invention and structural mastery, these overtures constitute gems of special brilliance in the treasury of Dvořák’s compositional bequest.

The PKF – Prague Philharmonia recorded this album in January 2015 at the Forum Karlin in Prague under the baton of their 2009-2015 Music Director and Chief Conductor Jakub Hrůša.

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Reviews (1)
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Review by Graham Williams - February 3, 2016

The distinctive contribution from Jakub Hrůša and the PKF Prague Philharmonia to Johannes Moser's recent account of the Dvorak and Lalo Cello concertos for PENTATONE Dvořák, Lalo: Cello Concertos - Moser, Hrůša made a most favourable impression. On this beautifully recorded SACD the orchestra is given the opportunity to show its mettle in a most welcome collection of five Dvorak Overtures again directed by the charismatic Jakub Hrůša. These splendid works often appear as fill-ups to recordings of Dvorak Symphonies so it is good to hear them presented together rather than as mere adjuncts to longer pieces.

The programme opens with the cycle of three concert overtures that Dvorak composed under the collective title of 'Nature, Life and Love'. These first appeared in 1891 but later they were separated by the composer and assigned the titles by which they are best known today – 'In Nature's Realm', 'Carnival' and 'Othello' – and given individual opus numbers (Op.91, 92 and 93). All three overtures are linked thematically by the main theme of 'In Nature's Realm' that is used in various guises in the other two. They are are full of Dvorak's typical abundant melodic richness and charm as well as passages of drama and driving energy that often recall his popular Slavonic dances.

With their use of Czech folk songs and melodies, the two earlier overtures on this disc, 'My Home' Op. 62 and 'Hussite' Op. 67 , typify Dvorak's lifelong patriotism.

'My Home' is the overture to the incidental music Dvorak composed to accompany the play' Josef Kajetán Tyl' by Frantisek Ferdinand Šamberk that depicts the life of the dramatist of the play's title. Dvorak's work incorporates the melody of a popular song 'Where is my home?' written by the composer Frantisek Skroup and a text by Tyl that quickly became very popular among Czechs and was accepted as their unofficial national anthem at a time when they were seeking to establish their own identity within the confines of Austro-Hungarian Empire. It is a most attractive piece and orchestrated with the composer' s usual mastery.

The stirring 'Hussite' Overture of 1883 that completes this collection concerns the Czech religious reformer Jan Hus who was burned at the stake as a heretic in 1415. In this work Dvorak marvellously combines the battle hymn of the Hussite warriors ' Ye Warriors of God' – familiar from the two final sections of Smetana's 'Ma Vlast' – and the 'St. Wenceslas Chorale' , to build a thrilling composition that moves from a sombre opening chorale through the sounds of battle to reach a magnificent peroration that symbolises the reconciliation of the warring factions.

There have been many fine recording of these works on disc amongst which those by István Kertész and Rafael Kubelik from the 1960s and 70s are especially recommendable, though in terms of sound quality neither can match the vividness of this excellent PENTATONE version recorded in 5.0 multi-channel DSD. Jakub Hrůša's performances of all five works are splendidly vital, stylish and beautifully shaped. If, perhaps, they occasionally lack a little of the dynamism and impetuosity of the two conductors mentioned above, this is more than compensated for by the obvious affection for this music shown by the players and their conductor. The idiomatic woodwind timbre of the PKF Prague Philharmonia, so reminiscent of Czech orchestras of the past, entrances the ear throughout – delightfully enhancing the Bohemian character of this wonderful music – while the crisp percussion and trenchant brass add to the rhythmic buoyancy of Hrůša's beguiling performances.

The Polyhymnia team (Job Maarse, producer, Erdo Groot, balance engineer / editing and Roger de Schot, recording engineer) have captured a warm and spacious sound with a rounded ambience in the fine acoustic of the Forum Karlin in Prague making this authentic Dvorak programme one that can be unreservedly recommended.

Copyright © 2016 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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Comments (5)
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Comment by John Broggio - February 19, 2016 (1 of 5)

I agree completely with Graham about this disc - wonderful playing and recording from beginning to end; a joy to the ears and the soul in equal measure!

Comment by hiredfox - February 25, 2016 (2 of 5)

OK John, that does it for me, order placed. I have so many recordings of these works in all formats and generally the Czech ensembles seem always to have made the best job of them. I was hovering anyway.

The Czech Philharmonic Orchestra recordings of the late 70's have in my opinion never been surpassed so a comparison will be interesting. Worth buying the box set if you still play vinyl and can find the disc on e-Bay.

Comment by hiredfox - February 28, 2016 (3 of 5)

Very disciplined performances but recording marred (stereo) by occasional over excitation of the venue acoustic resulting in some boominess in the mid and lower bass in crescendo - probably attributable to resonanance of hollow stage structures. Recommended but not perfect.

I prefer full orchestra for these overtures but have not checked the score's instrument requirement.

Comment by William Hecht - March 8, 2016 (4 of 5)

I don't know if I'm hearing (in mc) the same thing that hf complains of in stereo, but I do find the perspectives decidedly odd. In Nature's Realm places the whole orchestra in my lap. Well, let's be charitable and call it "conductor's ear view", which some will love and others hate. Very exciting, totally unrealistic. Carnival is just about perfect, very natural, and the other three tracks fall somewhere in between. Some dial twiddling helps, it's best at 2-3 db below my normal listening level. Performances are all one could want.

Comment by Wartybliggens - April 18, 2016 (5 of 5)

I enjoy this album more every time I listen to it. A real keeper. The music 'comes from inside' and all its color is captured to perfection.