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Smetana: Má Vlast - Flor

Smetana: Má Vlast - Flor

BIS  BIS-SACD-1805

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Smetana: Má Vlast

Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra
Claus Peter Flor (conductor)


By gathering six symphonic poems under the title Má Vlast (‘My Country‘), Bedrich Smetana created what is probably the most extensive portrayal of any geographical region in the history of music.

In his cycle (composed between 1874 and 1879) Smetana combined the new genre of symphonic poem, a term coined by Liszt in 1854, with the then highly fashionable ideals of nationalistic music. The result was an instant success – not just on Smetana‘s home ground, but also internationally – and the various parts (especially The Moldau) still remain favourites in concert halls all over the world. Female warriors, Christian reformers, medieval fortresses and peasant festivals – all of these appear in the broad fresco in which Smetana depicted his beloved Bohemia.

Ranging from idyllic to grandiose, the music is here performed by Claus Peter Flor and the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, a team whose recording of the Asrael Symphony by Smetana‘s compatriot Josef Suk made great impact on its release in 2009. Commending the sound quality (‘world-class‘), the reviewer on the Classics Today website called it ‘one smoking hot performance‘ by an orchestra playing ‘like a pack of demons‘ and his colleague in the Spanish magazine Scherzo praised Flor for striking ‘a balance between soft and loud, between drama and lyricism, between lucidity and ambiguity, which makes this into a new benchmark.‘ More succinctly the review in Classic FM Magazine included an ‘unqualified go buy recommendation‘.

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Review by John Miller - April 3, 2011

Smetana's cycle of six symphonic poems, Má Vlast (My Homeland) is one of the seed pieces of the Nationalist movement in European Late Romantic music. Thankfully, nowadays, we seem to have gone beyond the belief that Czech music can only be played by Czech conductors and orchestras, English music by English conductors and orchestras and so on. Love of one's homeland is a basic human emotion, and easily understood across the globe. No surprise, then, to have the relatively new Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra turn in such a spirited and idiomatic performance of Má Vlast. There is, however, a tenuous link back to Bohemia; their present conductor Claus Peter Flor was a pupil of the late Rafael Kubelík, whose several recordings of the Smetana are among those regarded as the finest.

With Kubelík's superb live recording of Má Vlast with the Czech Philharmonic at the 1990 Prague Festival ringing in my ears, I found much of the same excitement and fervour from that occasion reflected in Flor's performance. His tempi are generally faster than Kubelík's except for the second tone-poem (Vltava), which is notably broader, but none the less lilting. This extra speed is a help in the last two movements, Tábor and Blaník, where the material is melodically less distinguished. In these pieces the lengthy Hussite battle scenes can become bombastic and wearing in the hands of a lesser conductor. Crisp ensemble for the fast and fiery sections of each tone-poem, particularly for the brass, add to the Malaysian orchestra's generation of excitement and building of tension, while a disciplined and powerful string bass engine grounds the rhythms impressively.

The BIS team's recording in the Kuala Lumpur Dewan Philharmonic auditorium brings us all the colour and splendour of Smetana's cycle. Played at louder than my normal volume level, the sound-stage is both wide and deep, with each orchestral division clearly positioned. The two bardic harps opening the first tone-poem, Vyšerad, are unusually presented near the centre of the stage and sound simply gorgeous (although the first harp, which plays the cadenza part, ignores Smetana's forte marking for its fourth entry and begins very softly - Kubelík's harpist does the same!). Violins are divided left and right across the stage, giving some delightful antiphonal effects, such as the delicate pizzicati in Vltava. The hall acoustic decays very cleanly and somewhat faster than in older halls, and this allows for greater capture of detail, especially in the loudest climaxes, while in the quieter sections, ear-tickling inner melodic details further enhance the listening experience. This is not, however, to brand the venue's acoustic as "dry" in any way. Balances are very natural; timpani are not boomy but incisive, piccolos, triangle and cymbals add glitter but are not over-prominent.

Veteran collectors will of course want to keep their favourite Czech-based recordings, but this new BIS version of Má Vlast is sonically revelatory and has already been in my player a number of times. It is worthy of inclusion in anyone's disc-set. Also a good choice for someone building up a classical collection from scratch.

Copyright © 2011 John Miller and HRAudio.net

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Comment by Paul Hannah - December 10, 2015 (1 of 1)

The acoustics of this hall is very good...............almost totally lined in wood........I heard Mahler's Second there with Benjamin Zander conducting........would not have credited a Czech icon to this orchestra.............but on this write up I a will give it a listen. !