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Label : DG
Format : Flac track
Cover : Full

This set represents Rafael Kubelik’s art in a wholly positive way. His Mahler and Dvorák cycles are very well-known. The Dvorák remains, along with those by Rowicki and Kertesz, one of the three reference editions of the complete symphonies, and the only one featuring a Czech conductor. It’s particularly outstanding for the middle period works, Nos. 4-6, all of which are imbued with a rhythmic drive that few other versions match. The scherzos are especially memorable: that of the Sixth Symphony features crisp, hard-hitting accents that are really exciting. Through it all, the Berlin Philharmonic plays beautifully for Kubelik, and the couplings (Carnival, Scherzo Capriccio, The Wood Dove) with the Bavarian Radio Symphony, are every bit as fine.

Kubelik’s Mahler emphasizes the composer’s Czech heritage. Balances favor the woodwinds, and Kubelik brings the Slavic element to the fore. Conceptually the interpretations tend toward the small scale, swift and lean, and this means that the Second and Eighth lack the power and grandeur that others bring to them–but the rest of the cycle is pretty impressive. Kubelik’s Third is surprisingly fresh and gutsy. The First remains a reference version, while the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Ninth are all shapely and bracing, even if the playing of the Bavarian Radio Symphony isn’t as brilliant as that of the greatest European and US ensembles. Give Kubelik credit for stressing his orchestra’s strengths. You will hear details in these performances, especially from the wind section, that disappear in other recordings–check out those clarinets in the Fourth Symphony’s first movement second subject. Wonderful.

Kubelik’s Schumann and Beethoven cycles have had very little exposure on CD, and even tended to be overlooked when they were originally issued on LP, although for different reasons. The Schumann cycle is a decent, middle of the road series of interpretations noteworthy mainly for the fact that Kubelik gets the Berlin Philharmonic to sound so much better in this music than Karajan ever did. Kubelik’s Beethoven cycle, on the other hand, is unique in that it employs a different orchestra for each symphony, throwing the emphasis squarely on the conductor.

If Kubelik’s Mahler can sound modest in scale, then his Beethoven is strikingly large. The Eroica’s funeral march is one of the slowest and grimmest on disc, though it never drags. The Ninth is exceptionally powerful. Where so many performances fiddle with the dynamics in the first movement’s blazing recapitulation, Kubelik powers right through it to thrilling effect. Given the big-boned conception, the performances run amazingly true to form, and one of the principal attractions of the cycle lies in hearing the orchestras that are less familiar on disc in this repertoire play Beethoven.

For the record, here is who plays what: No. 1 (London Symphony); No. 2 (Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra); No. 3 (Berlin Philharmonic); No. 4 (Israel Philharmonic); No. 5 (Boston Symphony); No. 6 (Orchestre de Paris); No. 7 (Vienna Philharmonic); No. 8 (Cleveland Orchestra); No. 9 (Bavarian Radio Symphony). The consistency of results really does constitute a tribute to Kubelik’s artistry. I’m not sure there are many other conductors who could have pulled this off as successfully, and whether you agree with everything he does or not there’s no questioning his authority and mastery over both the repertoire and the ensembles that play it. Ultimately, that is what great conducting is all about.

Complete tracklist :Rafael Kubelik – The Symphony Edition