Má vlast [Vyehrad; Vltava; árka; Z českých luh û a hájú (From Bohemias Woods and Fields); Tábor; Blaník]
London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis
Recorded at concerts on 10 & 15 May 2005 in the Barbican Hall, London
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: November 2005
CD No: LSO LIVE LSO0061
Duration: 75 minutes
You don’t have to be Czech to conduct Má vlast – Paavo Berglund made a very good recording with Staatskapelle Dresden – but it does seem to help. Sir Colin Davis has made some distinguished recordings of Czech music, notably his recordings of Dvořák symphonies with the Concertgebouw Orchestra (Philips) and also more recently for LSO Live.
There is much to be said for recording Má vlast at concerts; Rafael Kubelik’s return to the Czech Philharmonic in 1991 after many years spent in exile was recorded thus by Supraphon and it has an added frisson. Although there are fine moments in Colin Davis’s reading, the LSO does not have this music in its collective bones in the way the Czech Philharmonic does (or Berglund’s Dresdeners).
Undoubtedly there are some memorable moments here – the elegiac close of ‘Vyšehrad’, and most of the final two symphonic poems, ‘Tábor’ and ‘Blaník’, are particularly impressive – but elsewhere there is a degree of ponderousness: Vltava flows slowly, with large pauses between its sections; however, it is not just a matter of the stopwatch, it’s more a clear sense of when to press on and when to hold-back which is missing. Although recorded live, maybe with non-audience patching, there is a lack of abandon, especially in the three best-known pieces – ‘Vltava’, ‘Šárka’ and ‘From Bohemia’s Woods and Fields’.
The recording is notably successful in capturing the harps at the work’s outset and the heavy brass have an impressive presence at the cycle’s close. However, even at LSO Live’s modest price there are alternatives, such as Antoni Wit’s glowing Polish Radio version for Naxos, which shows greater affinity with the music.
Not often in their extended ‘Indian Summer’ have Davis and the LSO missed the target, but in this instance there is a definite lack the sense of occasion that Má vlast needs.