Gianandrea Noseda

Smetana: Music from the Bartered Bride; The Two Widows; The Devil's Wall

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Outside of the Czecho-Slovak realm, the orchestral works of Bedrich Smetana are hardly known beyond the tone poem cycle Má Vlast and a few excerpts from the opera The Bartered Bride. They show up mostly in complete sets, a dominant paradigm for which was established by conductor Rafael Kubelik on Deutsche Grammophon several decades ago. This release by the BBC Philharmonic under Gianandrea Noseda is also part of a cycle; the first volume included the composer's Liszt-influenced early tone poems, and Má Vlast is presumably yet to come. The pieces on this release, mostly opera preludes and excerpts, are for the most part a great deal of fun in Noseda's readings, and the disc is worth consideration even apart from the rest of the cycle and regardless of ownership of previous sets. Sample the rocking and rolling opening of the most famous piece on the program, "Skocna" from The Bartered Bride (track 4), for an idea; Noseda brings out the big cymbal clash that forms that antecedent to the main theme, and it's off to the races from there. The percussion gets put in the foreground, and the BBC Philharmonic players acquit themselves very well. There's a mix of stylistic influences, with the prelude to the opera Libuse (track 6) perhaps touched by early Wagner. Here it is the horns that have the chance to shine, and they are pristine. The dance rhythms of the shorter excerpts are crisply done, although perhaps lacking a certain sensuousness Czech orchestras bring. The Chandos engineers sacrifice a bit of clarity in the strings to bring out the percussion and brass action, and that's all to the good in a recording that will set plenty of listeners to tapping their feet.

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