Jakub Hrusa / Prague Philharmonia

Bedrich Smetana: Má Vlast

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There are several new wrinkles in this Czech recording of Smetana's Má Vlast to distinguish it from the dozens of others available. The most significant is the reduced size of the orchestra, which numbers just over 50 players. Conductor Jakub Hrusa in the interview-format CD booklet (in English, German, French, and Czech) doesn't give any particular reason for this choice other than to say that he forbade himself to listen to other versions so as to develop his own vision of the work. But it's certainly a reasonable choice; not every orchestra of Smetana's time boasted the behemoth proportions of the full symphonies that perform Má Vlast today. Hrusa also tampers with the string writing in a few places to ensure greater clarity. The upshot is a cycle that is more transparent than the usual readings of this work, although not really lighter; the orchestra still makes plenty of noise. And those wondering whether this is a revisionist shocker can relax; having made these unusual choices, Hrusa sticks pretty close to the performing traditions Czechs absorb into the bloodstream with this work (he says in the booklet that his first exposure to it was prenatal). But lots of accents and other small details come through. Sample the familiar "Vltava" (The Moldau), track 2, which has a nice, varied texture and seems imbued with the pictorial quality that has made this piece so beloved among ordinary concertgoers. The reduced dimensions make the Prague Philharmonia horns execute their quieter lines at a lower volume, and they do not falter. The album was recorded live, in the acoustically superior Rudolfinium, and Supraphon's engineers deliver superior live sound. The orchestra earned a lengthy ovation that is probably rare for this work that in Czech lands is pure musical comfort food.

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