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Antonin Dvorak: Symphony.

Antonin Dvorak Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, op. 10 Alexander Glazunov Concerto for Saxophone George Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue Karel Krautgartner--saxophone, Jan Panenka--piano, Prague Symphony Orchestra, Vaclav Smetacek--conductor. Production: Matous Vlcinsky. Text: Cz., Eng., Ger., Fr. Recorded: Prague, Rudolfinum 1959; Prague, Domovina 1953 and t962. Released 2009. TT: 69:11. AAD. 1 CD Supraphon SU 3968-2.


This selection of recordings from the Supraphon deserves recognition both because of the main protagonists--the conductor Vaclav Smetacek and soloists Karel Krautgartner and Jan Panenka--and the choice of music. Dvorak's early symphonic work still requires rehabilitation, while in Glazunov and Gershwin we encounter one composer who has stepped across the frontier to "serious" music and another who has crossed over in the "opposite direction". Although Bedrich Smetana presented Dvorak's Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, op. 10 soon after it was written, in 1874, it has never become as well-known as its successors from the sixth onwards. This is unfair, since it already contains everything that we value so much in Dvorak's mature symphonic work; it is full of energy and contemplative lyricism. In this symphony Dvorak is beginning to keep the geyser of his ideas in check, and also shows himself a future master of instrumentation. Scholars have offered various explanations for the absence of a dance movement, but the three movements of the symphony are definitely intended to be the complete work, since the composer confirmed this form of the piece even in later revisions. The one-movement Concerto for Saxophone by Alexander Glazunov is one of the works inspired by the art of the saxophonist Sigurd M. Rascher (1907-2001), the initiator of a range of pieces including some by composers from Bohemia (Viktor Ullmann, Alois Haba, Karel Reiner). In the inter-war period Rascher passionately promoted equality for the saxophone as a symphony orchestra instrument, and after emigrating to escape the Nazis he built up a saxophone school of performance in the USA (he was still making guest appearances in Prague in 1967). Our debt to Karel Krautgartner, who was banished from Czechoslovakia by the Soviet tanks, can never be paid in full, and it is impossible to describe the personal experience of his performances, but at least some of his recordings have survived. Krautgartner was a master of both the clarinet and saxophone in both genres, and just as Benny Goodman, for example, recorded Mozart's Clarinet Concerto in his own distinctive style, so Krautgartner managed to find an appropriate style of performance for a work of the Russian Post-Romantic movement; in the case of Glazunov's concerto this was also a matter of an experiment by the composer prompted by encounter with what was for him a new instrument. As far as Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue is concerned, there is a great deal of comparative material in the form of multiple recordings, including Gershwin's own performance of the solo part in a recording of 1925. Even if we set aside the technical limitations of recording at the time, it is clear that one should not always consider the performance of the composer himself as valid for all time. Gershwin's play is marked by much greater contrast in terms of tempo changes, sometimes his virtuosity simply explodes, be makes little effort to integrate the disparate elements of the rhapsody form and his performance sounds like spur-of-the-moment improvisation. The performance of the Columbia Jazz Band, with which Gershwin's recording was combined anal published by CBS Records in 1976, is subordinated to this approach. Here the piece is generally played much faster, the clarinettist makes abundant use of "blue notes", and in the eruptions of the orchestral passages it is clear that the piece was written in the same period as Honegger's Pacific 231. Gershwin's compositions on the boundaries between jazz and symphonic music are played by performers in both genres, but of course their conceptions differ and generally symphony orchestras are criticised for not having the right "drive". Vaclav Smetacek with the Prague Symphony Orchestra managed to create an ideal balance between the two genre layers. Jan Panenka, famous for his stoic calm and a kind of perpetual dreaminess, showed an excellent feeling for Gershwin's syncopations, and plays the solo part with technical brilliance. The resulting impression is quite different from that of Gershwin's recording, but this is precisely what is exciting about music and the process of its perception.
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Author:Reittererova, Vlasta
Publication:Czech Music
Article Type:Sound recording review
Date:Apr 1, 2009
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