Sinfonia da Requiem, Op.24
Symphony No.8 in G major, Op.88
Sequences for Orchestra
Masonic Funeral Music, K477
Le tombeau de Couperin
Tristan and Isolde Prelude and Liebestod
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
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: October 2002
CD No: CSO CD02-2 (2 CDs)
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 Kubelík’s hallmarks. No pretence, just musically intelligent and aware.
The Dvoøák (1966) is absolutely Kubelík’s repertoire (and not simply because he was Czech-born). Perhaps Dvoøák’s most Nationalistic symphony (innovative in design certainly), Kubelík’s 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 listener’s emotions and ears. It’s a lovely realisation, muscular and tender, and has persuasive claims to be considered even finer than Kubelík’s 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 Kubelík’s 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 music’s 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. Mozart’s formal homage is given eloquent treatment; Kubelík isn’t 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 CSO’s previous Kubelík release), might be thought simpatico – how valuable then these archive recordings are. Ravel’s Couperin memorial (1983) is supple and malleable, and captures perfectly Ravel’s reserve. The rhythms are chiselled, Kubelík really appreciating the antique dance forms that Ravel bases his innate and universal expression of sadness. Ray Still’s 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 Britten’s 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 section’s 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. There’s 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 0’19”-0’22” in track 16 (“Then sing aloud…”). It’s 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 Walton’s 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.