Rafael Kubelík – Salzburg Envoi

0 of 5 stars

Symphony No.3 in E flat, Op.55 (Eroica)
Symphony No.41 in C, K551 (Jupiter)

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Rafael Kubelík

13 August 1971 – Grosses Festspielhaus, Salzburg (Salzburg Festival)

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: October 2002
CD No: ORFEO C 587 022 B (2 CDs)

This concert was to prove Rafael Kubelík’s final appearance at the Salzburg Festival, an event that was not a focus in his calendar. He conducted until ill health retired him in 1985. There were occasional appearances after this – notably at the Prague Spring Festival (Kubelík was Czech-born in 1914). He died in 1996.

In both these renditions there are small examples that suggest the VPO and Kubelík were not regular partners (they weren’t); even so, there are many more exemplars of the VPO responding with innate sympathy to the wonderful musician Kubelík was. The Jupiter is initially a little heavy-footed, yet for all Kubelík’s time-taken, Mozart’s final symphony is made lofty and articulate to genial effect; once warmed the VPO bring all its Mozartian instincts to bear (an oboe gaff in the first movement’s development aside!). There are no repeats – unlike a live Munich Kubelík version also on Orfeo (his VPO and Bavarian recordings are similarly repeat-less) – and the whole is shot-through with a lyricism that is especially appealing in the middle movements. The ’Andante cantabile’ is exactly as directed and the ’Menuet’, which can so easily drag its heels, has a real spring in its step. The miraculous ’Finale’ is lucid and jubilant, brimful of detail – the kind of observances that come when the performers know the music from the inside.

The ’Eroica’ is more cantabile than heroic. It is spacious and noble, Beethoven’s wretched metronome markings kicked into touch for something grand – less Klemperer’s unflinching view of architecture, more Furtwängler’s delved approach. Those familiar with Kubelík’s later Berlin recording (for DG as part of a cycle with a different orchestra per symphony, on CD in Japan if not Europe) will recognise Kubelík’s blend of weight and textural clarity; this VPO account is actually closer to a Chicago Symphony version of a decade later (so says the ’pirate’ information!). He takes the long view and admirably proscribes that patience is a virtue.

There’s no want of fire at nodal points – the first movement development really blazes and does so because of timing. The VPO is now in its stride and appears captivated by its conductor. The ’Marcia funebre’ is among the slowest (nearly 19 minutes). The oboe solo is wonderfully eloquent, the burdened pulse propounds universal grieving: this is surely what Beethoven meant; prissy ’authentic’ traversals don’t get near this.

Kubelík’s sensitive and organic reading may not be a life-changer but it is unusually satisfying. As such, and not to Kubelík admirers who’ll want it anyway, this release is recommended for Kubelík’s particular blend of poetry and majesty. I hope the two CDs are priced as one. The sound is excellent.

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