Vyšehrad, Vltava, Šárka, Z českých luhů a hájů, Tábor, Blaník

Resonantly if dynamically recorded, three years ago, Smetana’s patriotic cycle of six symphonic poems – the sights, sounds and history of Czechoslovakia – finds Semyon Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic at their vibrant best if maybe trying too hard at times to tell a story given that vivid narratives are already within Smetana’s music. I suspect though that this first impression will fade quickly for this opus has belonged to the Czech Philharmonic through its numerous generations and its committed response to Semyon Bychkov suggests total admiration and accord with its music director’s dramatic if primary-colour approach, very effective in ‘Šárka’ as she leads her men-hating troupe of women in a massacre, ‘Bohemia’s Woods and Fields’ has awe and joy, and the final (related) pair respond favourably, but the gap between them is too long. Szell’s stereo Cleveland taping haunts ‘Vltava’.

I got to know Má vlast from Ančerl’s beautifully presented two-LP Supraphon set, and commentators more experienced than I with this music will suggest a Talich version as mandatory, ditto at least one of Kubelík’s five recordings (Chicago-Vienna-Boston-Munich-Prague) from which I think my vote goes to the fourth, Bavarian Radio SO on Orfeo. I wouldn’t want to be without Berglund or Fedoseyev (the latter falls into the ‘interesting’ camp). Overall – whether it quite gels or adds up within the movements themselves or across the (here) eighty-one-minute whole is any one person’s opinion – Bychkov’s Má vlast comes with a seasoned blast: on Pentatone PTC 518 7203, released on March the First.

NB: in April Walter Susskind’s St. Louis version of Má vlast will be reissued on Vox Audiophile Edition to follow this, https://www.colinscolumn.com/vox-audiophile-edition-walter-susskind-st-louis-symphony-record-dvoraks-concertos-with-zara-nelsova-ruggiero-ricci-and-rudolf-firkusny/. Looking forward!