The Czech Philharmonic is generally quite a good orchestra if you can get by the wide vibrato in all of the winds. No doubling here and the violas sat on the outside. Of the strings, the violins delivered the most consistently fine sound. The trumpets cracked just a few times, but always at the worst possible spots.
Vaclav Neumann is one of those “Let’s take the music stand away, but put it back for the concerto” types. The Wood Dove is a work that I have not experienced live before. It is kind of moody, with a few splashes of loud. Occasionally, one can hear a foreshadowing or “memory” of some of the symphonies. With Neumann, it came across as a bit of a bore—I’ll check the recording with Kubelik to see of it can be salvaged. The audience wasn’t too impressed—only three curtain calls! It’s interesting that the orchestra, once it has been asked to stand, remains so for the duration of the applause.
In fact, the 1976 Kubelik recording with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (DGG 463 158) is, quite literally—the verses of Karel Jaromir Erben provide the murder/suicide narrative—poetry in motion. The music unfolds magically due in large measure to seamless transitions and rhythmic clarity too seldom achieved elsewhere. The climax is a sonic delight as is the deeply felt, ever-so-reedy contributions from the bass clarinet. Nearly two-and-one-half minutes longer—feeling considerably more—is the 1988 Supraphon disc where Bohumil Gregor conducts the Czech Philharmonic (CO-2197). The so-slow pulse is somewhat responsible for the largely stilted funeral march, replete with curiously awkward duples. Similarly, the long flowing melodic lines aren’t sustained, the transitions are sudden and this bass clarinet’s tone is decidedly unfocussed, hovering on the edge of pitch purgatory. Like the timelines of all three versions, Neumann’s falls squarely in the middle.
The Martinů concerto was played by Joseph Suk; everyone used their music. I would have to study this work further to offer any useful comments. Initially, it seems to wander. Still, the audience gave five curtain calls.
After intermission (where I bumped into the bartender from Hotel Europe who said he couldn’t stand the Martinů), we had party time with Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. This performance was extremely self-indulgent and not always together. Neumann’s idea of conducting “without the score” is to keep track of the melody and almost grind to a halt between the BIG sections. The famous French horn solo and the duet with the oboe in the “Andante cantabile” were quite good. The loud bits were just that. No wonder Kubelik doesn’t waste his time with this part of the repertoire.
Unusually, Neumann hardly stopped at all between movements—except for the “Finale.” This penchant seems to annoy the audience as they are all ready to cough, shift about and toot their noses.
Of course, there was an encore—what else but a Dvořák Slavonic Dance from Opus. 72. JWR