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Label : Warner
Format : Flac track
Cover : Yes

Rafael Kubelik’s recorded legacy for EMI represents a hodge-podge of miscellaneous recordings dating from the late 1930s to the early 1980s. It is not remotely comparable to his later efforts for DG, and to some extent he finds himself at the mercy of the iffy ensemble quality that blighted most European orchestras in the immediate wake of World War II. This isn’t terribly serious–there is very little bad playing here–but it is noticeable and it’s something to keep in mind. Offsetting this blemish is surprisingly clear and listenable recorded sound, even from the sessions that took place in the 1940s. If you’re worried about the technical quality of the recordings, don’t be. So here is what you get:

Discs 1-3: Probably the least memorable performances. The opening Gluck overture to Iphigenia en Aulide is very good, and Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony (with the Royal Philharmonic) also goes well–outer movements especially–but the rest consists of a passel of middle-of-the-road Mozart: all the major overtures, Eine kleine Nachtmusik, and Symphonies 35, 36, 38, and 41. Even with the Philharmonia and Vienna Philharmonic orchestras on board, there is nothing above average here. Two excerpts from Berlioz’ The Damnation of Faust (Hungarian March and the Ballet des sylphes) are also done well, but so what?

Discs 4-5: Schubert and Mendelssohn. The Vienna Philharmonic plays beautifully in symphonies Nos. 3, 4, and 8; the Royal Philharmonic does not play as beautifully in No. 9, but Kubelik’s performance is very enjoyable all the same, and he manages the transition between the first movement’s introduction and the allegro proper as well as anyone ever has.

Disc 6: A lively Mendelssohn Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage Overture and a smoking run through the suite of pieces from Smetana’s The Bartered Bride. The disc contains with the two earliest recordings in the set, Vltava (The Moldau) and From Bohemia’s Woods and Fields from Ma Vlást, set down in 1937 in London’s Abby Road studios while the Czech Philharmonic was on tour. Again, the sonics are surprisingly good, as they also are in this exciting and (initially) untidy version of Janácek’s Sinfonietta with the Czech Philharmonic from 1946.

Disc 7: Brahms’ Hungarian Dances (nine of them) played with idiomatic flair, along with impressive versions of Bartók’s Two Portraits and the Concerto for Orchestra. Kubelik’s DG version is the reference recording for the latter, and the Royal Philharmonic is no Boston Symphony, but it’s interesting to hear that the keen ear for detail and effortless pacing were there from the start.

Disc 8: A terrific Borodin Second Symphony and Polovtsian Dances (sung in German, to the extent one can tell) from Vienna, coupled to Kubelik’s slightly slow but still powerful Nielsen Fifth with the Danish Radio Symphony from 1983.

Discs 9-10: Tchaikovsky Symphonies Nos. 4-6 with the Vienna Philharnonic. These are exciting, passionate performances, never hysterical or heavy. Some might find them underplayed, but if you listen to, say, the coda of Symphony No. 4’s first movement, you can clearly hear how staying in tempo and driving to the finish gives the music a very welcome burst of propulsive energy without bombast. Definitely worth hearing.

Disc 11: Dvorák’s Seventh and Eighth Symphonies with the Philharmonia from 1948. The Seventh gets off to a slow start but gathers steam as it goes. The Eight is lovely, as it almost always is. Kubelik’s DG versions are clearly superior both in terms of playing and, marginally perhaps, interpretation, but if you collect Kubelik these certainly deserve a listen.

Disc 12: More Dvorák. Stereo and mono versions of the Scherzo capriccioso, a piece that Kubelik played as well as anyone can. He never took the interior repeat of the trio section, and that bothers me not a bit. There’s also a magnificent Slavonic Rhapsody No. 3, a singleton effort in the Kubelik discography, and a relatively dimly engineered Carnival, In Nature’s Realm, and Othello with the Czech Philharmonic from 1946. You also get the Legend No. 10 as a brief filler.

Disc 13: An absolute treat of a disc containing a fresh and thrilling Janácek Taras Bulba and Martinu Frescoes of Piero della Francesca with the Royal Philharmonic, in 1958 stereo, coupled with a positively coruscating reading of the latter composer’s Double Concerto for Two String Orchestras, Piano and Timpani (with the Philharmonia from 1950). The vividly abrasive mono sonics suite the work to a tee.

As you can see, there’s plenty here for collectors to enjoy, and the set is especially noteworthy for the light cast upon Kubelik’s early career. Get it while you can.

Bela Bartók:
Two Portraits Op. 5
Concerto for Orchestra, BB 123, Sz.116

Ludwig Beethoven:
Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68 ‘Pastoral’

Hector Berlioz:
La Damnation de Faust, Op. 24 (excerpts)

Alexander Borodin:
Prince Igor: Polovtsian Dances
Symphony No. 2 in B minor

Johannes Brahms:
Hungarian Dances

Antonin Dvorak:
Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Op. 70
Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op. 88
Scherzo capriccioso, Op. 66
Slavonic Rhapsody, Op. 45 No. 3

Christoph Willibald Gluck:
Iphigénie en Aulide: Overture

Leos Janacek:
Taras Bulba

Bohuslav Martinu:
Les Fresques de Piero della Francesca, H. 352
Double Concerto for Strings, Piano & Timpani

Felix Mendelssohn:
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Op. 61 (excerpts)
Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, Op. 27

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart:
Symphony No. 35 in D major, K385 ‘Haffner’
Serenade No. 13 in G major, K525 ‘Eine kleine Nachtmusik’
Cassation K63
Symphony No. 36 in C major, K425 ‘Linz’
Symphony No. 38 in D major, K504 ‘Prague’
Symphony No. 41 in C major, K551 ‘Jupiter’

Carl Nielsen:
Symphony No. 5, Op. 50 (FS97)

Franz Schubert:
Symphony No. 4 in C minor, D417 ‘Tragic’
Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D759 ‘Unfinished’
Symphony No. 9 in C major, D944 ‘The Great’
Symphony No. 3 in D major, D200

Bedrich Smetana:
The Bartered Bride (highlights)
Má Vlast: excerpts

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky:
Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36
Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64
Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74 ‘Pathétique’

and Dvorak and Mozart overtures