(1) Antonín Dvořák: Slavonic Rhapsodies & Symphonic Variations
(2) Beethoven & Bruch: Violin Concertos
Slavonic Rhapsodies & Symphonic Variations
Jakub Hrůša, PKF – Prague Philharmonia
PENTATONE PTC 5186554
For the third of his three-album series for PENTATONE, the young rising star Jakub Hrůša conducts the PKF-Prague Philharmonia in an all Dvořák programme of appealing orchestral works comprising the evergreen favourite Symphonic Variations op. 78 coupled with the lesser known Slavonic Rhapsodies op. 45.
Already established as a tireless promoter of Czech music, Jakub Hrůša was the inaugural winner in 2015 of the Sir Charles Mackerras Prize for his advocacy of Janáček’s works, going on to receive ecstatic reviews in 2016 for Glyndebourne Opera’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen. One reviewer enthused that Hrůša “clearly has this music in his bones and blood … he asks for (and gets) an urgent, raw and abrasive quality, expressive of nothing less than the life force itself.” (The Telegraph, 13 June 2016).
This new release builds on the critical success of his earlier releases in the series. The first album of Dvořák and Lalo cello concertos was selected by Gramophone for its monthly Editor’s Choice which noted that “the recorded sound is, like the playing, absolutely top-notch” (September 2015). HR Audio also praised the album of Dvořák orchestral music for performances that were “splendidly vital, stylish and beautifully shaped” (February 2016).
In this third album, Dvorak’s unfailing gift for appealing melodies, potent rhythms and colourful orchestration are put on full display, especially in his Symphonic Variations, one of the most popular set of orchestral variations in the repertoire. Starting with a rather simple and seemingly unpromising theme, Dvořák weaves his customary magic in a series of ingenious and often witty variations which culminates in a suitably exuberant and rousing conclusion. No less winning are the three Slavonic Rhapsodies; these loosely structured and evocative character pieces were hugely popular in his day and have lost none of their power to captivate listeners.
“What else could I wish as a Czech conductor with my Czech orchestra?” says Hrůša in a YouTube interview. “I’m really happy that PENTATONE invited us to do these recordings … wonderful melodies, great rhythms, charming dances but with some depth and real drama.”
Beethoven & Bruch
Salvatore Accardo, Kurt Masur, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig
PENTATONE REMASTERED CLASSICS PTC 5186237
Classic recordings of the perennially popular violin concertos of Beethoven and Bruch performed by the veteran soloist Salvatore Accardo with the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester under Kurt Masur can now be heard for the first time in their vivid, multi-channel original sound in this new release from PENTATONE.
First released in 1977-78 on the Philips Classics label, Accardo’s rendition of the Beethoven Violin Concerto and his masterly survey of the violin concertos of Bruch were praised by critics for the luminous playing and for Masur’s sensitive and nuanced accompanying.
Although recorded in multi-channel sound, these classic performances in the repertoire have previously been available only in the conventional two-channel stereo format. Using state of the art technology which avoids the need for re-mixing, PENTATONE’s engineers have remastered the original studio tapes to bring the performances to life as originally intended: in compelling and pristine multi-channel sound.
Famous for his heartfelt and searching interpretations of the Romantic repertoire, the German conductor Kurt Masur, who died in December 2015, was one of the most critically acclaimed and admired conductors of the late 20th century. He recorded extensively for Philips while Kapellmeister at the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester and his account of the Bruch symphonies and the violin concertos with Accardo as soloist were instantly popular with the critics. For Accardo, the Philips sessions also marked the start of his recordings of the mainstream repertoire, previously having dazzled audiences with his landmark recordings of the Paganini violin concertos.
For their programme, it comes as a surprise to learn that Beethoven’s lyrical and serene Violin Concerto op. 61 was rather indifferently received in his lifetime. The same however could not be said of Bruch’s arresting Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, op. 26 whose popularity the composer would later live to regret as it overshadowed his other works. Nevertheless both concertos are firmly established as favourites with audiences and players alike. And these inspired performances, here in glorious, multi-channel sound, will no doubt win over a new generation of discerning audiophiles.
The veteran Italian violinist and conductor Salvatore Accardo is one of the most accomplished virtuosos of his generation, famous for his groundbreaking recordings of the complete Paganini violin concertos and other solo works. Born in 1941 in Turin, he leapt to fame in 1958 by winning the Paganini Competition in Genoa. Noted for his exquisite, beautiful playing and a technical wizardry carried off with disarming nonchalance, he quickly cemented his reputation as the preeminent Paganini specialist through his acclaimed recordings and concert appearances. He moved over to recording the mainstream repertoire in the 1970s (thanks to Philips) and has an extensive and rich discography spanning his career, numbering over 50 recordings on various labels including Philips, DG, EMI, and Sony Classical.
The German conductor Kurt Masur (1927 – 2015) established his towering reputation through his position as Kapellmeister of the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester, an orchestra which he rebuilt to its former glory during his tenure from 1970 – 1996. He was also principal conductor of the New York Philharmonic (1991 – 2002) and the London Philharmonic (2000 – 2007). He is famous for his deeply felt interpretations of the German Romantic tradition although his repertoire was broad and he was committed to new music. During his tenure at the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester he recorded extensively for Philips including much of the core symphonic literature, including the works on this release.
In his lifetime, Beethoven struggled to get his Violin Concerto op. 61 recognised as the masterpiece that history subsequently judged that it undoubtedly is. Following its lukewarm reception in Vienna, Beethoven made an arrangement of the work for piano and orchestra at the behest of Muzio Clementi which fared little better. The original work was rescued from obscurity in 1844 by the young Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim with Mendelssohn conducting the orchestra of the London Philharmonic Society. Since then, its position as one of the best-loved violin concertos in the repertoire has been unassailable.
Max Bruch seems to have been rather taken aback by the popularity of his Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, op. 26 as the work had had a difficult gestation and several violinists had been involved in the development of the solo part, especially Joseph Joachim. On its London premiere in 1868, a critic even dismissed the work as ‘full of pretention, but almost destitute of interest’. The public however disagreed and it has remained popular ever since. But perhaps later in life Bruch had good reason to rue its popularity, for not only did it overshadow his other works, he failed to cash in on it, having rashly sold the copyright to the publishers for a pittance.