Bedrich Smetana | Geoffrey Simon, LSO | Chandos | 2001

Bedrich Smetana | Geoffrey Simon, LSO | Chandos | 2001 featured image

by Michael Lyons, Music Director

It was Antonin Dvorak who stated, “I am a Slavonic composer, Smetana is a Czech composer.” Indeed, it is Smetana’s beautifully dramatic portrayal of the Moldau that we all know and love, and probably his greatest lasting musical claim to fame. And as an adult I learned this score more than any other portrayed the true Czech spirit.

Hoever, I am proud to say that I am among the many who, as a kid, first encountered “Classical” music (specifically orchestral classical music) through my many hours invested in soaking up the Saturday morning cartoons. Ah, those wonderful Warner Bros. soundtracks—endless and seamless– Carl Stalling is a musical genious in his own right. Can you begin to imagine how dull it would have been to watch Wiley chase the Roadrunner without Smetana to propel him along in his relentless futility. Think, for example, of the opening scene of Chariots of Fire without Vangelis—as pointed out in the Oscars show in 1981 it was just guys in underwear running on the beach.

Here is the absolutely best-sounding recording ever made of the famous chase music—The Dance of the Comedians from The Bartered Bride. A nice big-bottomed sound—full, resonant, with no distortion—perfect for turning your ACME stereo up on the weekend without damaging your ACME speakers as you harness yourself into whatever new gadget you have just received from UPS. The Overture and other national dances that make up The Bartered Bride portion of this CD are equally impressive. Fast and furious are the strings and woodwinds, big and boisterous is the brass section—and the most plump sounding timpani ever recorded.

As you wind down from speeding around your living room you will enjoy the rich and dramatic String Quartet in E- (From My Life). This is the famous orchestration made by George Szell and allows the strings of the LSO to come to centre stage, beautifully supported by the rest of the orchestra. This hugely dramatic music, very much programme music in that it portrays the composer’s own life and struggle, is again brilliantly performed. For Smetana, who like Beethoven, lost his most treasured sense – the sub-titles of the four movements say it all. “Romantic longing and foreboding misfortune.” “The merriment of youth:my love of dancing and dance music.” “Memories of the happiness of my first love.” “Joy in discovering how to treat Bohemian national elements in music: the catastrophe of deafness: reminiscence of happier days: and resignation.”

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