Rafael Kubelik

Mahler: Symphony No. 1 'Titan'; Janácek: Sinfonietta

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Here we have two studio recordings by Rafael Kubelik made in monaural for Decca in the mid-'50s with the Wiener Philharmoniker: a Mahler First from 1954 and a Janácek Sinfonietta from 1955. Listeners who remember the Czech conductor's later stereo recordings of these works for Deutsche Grammophon will need no more encouragement to seek out this disc, but those who don't, or who don't recall the conductor, may need further information before reaching a decision.

To start with, Kubelik is generally agreed to be one of the best Czech conductors of the twentieth century, whose readings of both Czech repertoire and the Austro-Germanic repertoire were highly regarded for their lyricism, flexibility, and intensity. When these recordings were made, Kubelik had long been a passionate champion of Mahler's music even when it was unfashionable to do so, and he was also known as an ardent advocate of Janácek's operas outside Czech-speaking countries.

It should come as no surprise that these performances are excellent, though they are only so up to a point. Kubelik brings out the singing, triumphant qualities of Mahler, while his Janácek rings out with pride and patriotism. However, the Viennese musicians are unfortunately unfamiliar with both pieces, and they cannot manage the scores without stumbling. Mahler's gargantuan climaxes are not always together and Janácek's fanfares are out of sync. Listeners who love Kubelik and the music may be able to overlook these blemishes; listeners less attached to either may have more difficulty letting them pass. Decca's half-century-old monaural sound will be fine for listeners accustomed to half-century-old sound, but listeners used to the clarity and brightness of digital recordings may find its warm textures too thick and its rich colors too heavy.

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