Sinfonia da Requiem, Op.24 Dvoøák
Symphony No.8 in G major, Op.88 Kubelík
Sequences for Orchestra Mozart
Masonic Funeral Music, K477 Ravel
Le tombeau de Couperin Wagner
Tristan and Isolde Prelude and Liebestod Walton
Belshazzars Feast *
* Nelson Leonard (baritone), University of Illinois Choir and Mens Glee Club, University of Illinois Womens Glee Club, University of Illinois Brass Bands
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Recorded at concerts between 1952-1983
CD No: CSO CD02-2 (2 CDs) Duration: Reviewed: October 2002
Chicago Symphony Orchestra From the Archives, Volume 16: A Tribute to Rafael Kubelík II
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
My appreciation of Rafael Kubelík (1914-96) has grown and grown over the years and was started through an introduction from a distinguished colleague. Structural command, rhythmic buoyancy, warm heartfelt expression and inner strength are Kubelíks hallmarks. No pretence, just musically intelligent and aware.
The Dvoøák (1966) is absolutely Kubelíks repertoire (and not simply because he was Czech-born). Perhaps Dvoøáks most Nationalistic symphony (innovative in design certainly), Kubelíks really appreciates its rusticity and heart in this guileless performance distinguished by sinewy lower strings and beautiful woodwind playing. Slavonic fire and textural clarity engross the listeners emotions and ears. Its a lovely realisation, muscular and tender, and has persuasive claims to be considered even finer than Kubelíks studio recordings (on Testament and DG respectively).
Following is flowing and deep Wagner (also 66) emotional half-lights and accumulating intensity are similarly engrossing; there is no doubting that the orchestra is caught up and that the Liebestod is transcendental.
Of particular interest is Kubelíks own work. Of the pieces I know of his, particularly the Symphony, I have always been impressed. Completed in 1975, Sequences for Orchestra is a 24-minute piece that alternates harsh and translucent soundworlds. It is consummately scored for a large orchestra, has memorable ideas, and communicates vibrantly. As Sequences moves towards its climax, Kubelík really pours his heart out heart-rending. Sequences is a concentrated and strong creation that cites Bartók in the mix of intensity and nostalgia; from a formal point of view the musics development is concerned with motivic transformation. Sequences rages and reflects and finally dissolves and holds the attention throughout. Wonderful to have this 1980 performance conducted by the composer.
The second CD begins with three works of remembrance. Mozarts formal homage is given eloquent treatment; Kubelík isnt one to underline things, yet neither does he underplay. Here there is a wealth of consciousness under the surface.
Musicians discographies do not always give the whole story of accomplishment or interest. Neither Kubelík and Ravel, nor Kubelík and Roy Harris for that matter (Symphony 5 in the CSOs previous Kubelík release), might be thought simpatico how valuable then these archive recordings are. Ravels Couperin memorial (1983) is supple and malleable, and captures perfectly Ravels reserve. The rhythms are chiselled, Kubelík really appreciating the antique dance forms that Ravel bases his innate and universal expression of sadness. Ray Stills oboe-playing is indeed exquisite, and I have rarely heard Tombeau as gentle and transparent as this. Not even Celibidache distils the music quite like this!
Initially Brittens Sinfonia da Requiem (1983, same concert as Ravel) seems lightweight but soon sucks you into a powerful maelstrom again, one is caught up by Kubelík looking ahead the explosive Dies irae is powerfully wrought, measured in tempo (with numerous felicities of orchestration as a consequence): less is more; Kubelík knew this to be true and when the sections true vehemence is reached, you know it! The final lamentation and suggestion of promise is movingly charted.
All these are highly recommendable performances (in excellent sound) and not just additions for the Kubelík collector but for the discerning listener who appreciates that individuality and sensationalism are not one and the same.
Belshazzar (1952) is more circumspect. The opening trombone note is missing, the sound is variable initially poor (source material or dreaded no-noise re-mastering?) but improves to be decent enough. The performance, while of immense spirit and terrific drive, is a bit of a mess. All over in 30 minutes (something of a world record) Kubelík does his choirs no favours. Theres no doubt they give their all. The CSO sail through the rhythmic complexities although it must be reported that Kubelík glosses over some finer points and there is one curious textural deviation what sounds like a consort of saxophones (there is but one required) instead of horns at 019-022 in track 16 (Then sing aloud ). Its all hugely exciting and must have left an impression at the time. One for admirers of the conductor and committed Waltonians; and it must be said that Kubelík has a real feel for Waltons characteristic rhythmic pick-ups.
This excellent release with good biographical, anecdotal and music notes can be ordered on-line. Taking a trip around the goodies that the Chicago Symphony Store has to offer is very worthwhile.