Sunday, 23 March 2014

Music to sooth the ears of a treacherous commander

Albrecht Wenzel Eusebius von Wallenstein (1583-1634) was a rather nasty sort who came to a sticky end. He caused mayhem during the Thirty Years War and had a pack of soldiers who could do anything they wanted as long as they took orders in battle. Schiller wrote trilogy of plays on Wallenstein's exploits and Smetana took one of these up as a symphonic poem. 

SmetanaSymphonic Poem  - Wallerstein's Camp,  Op. 14

Czech Philharmonic Orchestra 
conducted by Rafael Kubelík

Mercury 16000 & 16001
(Matrix Nos. KMC 044048 - KMC 044051 from Supraphon)

Prague? 1st December 1943

1 Flac , Here at Mediafire. [about 83Mb]

This recording has been released on CD but the sound is pretty poor. I think it took real skill to record this so badly; more probably the depredations of war took its toll on both the engineers, equipment and the venue in occupied Prague. The photograph below is in all likelihood taken at the session and shows the placement of the microphone, I can't identify where it is for I am sure that it is neither the Smetana Hall or the Dvořák Hall in the Rudolfinum. 

Kubelík recorded for Supraphon three tone poems in December 1943. He began with Wallenstein's Camp op. 14 on the 1st December, before setting down  Hakon Jarl op.16  on the 10th and Richard III op. 11 on the 13th.

The excellent site has all you need to know on Rafael Kubelík and his recordings so I won't repeat what has already been said.

The recording is problematic. When played at 78rpm the first side is some quarter of a tone higher than the following three, the microphone seems to have been moved or possibly the musicians too. There are number of wrong notes and also some rather odd sounds coming from the orchestra, in a couple of places the sound is either compressed or almost inaudible. Despite this it is just fantastic, Kubelík and the orchestra drive the music along and just about hold it all together. The work really needs to prevent it becoming either stodgy or boring, something I think afflicts many recordings of the piece. During the war Kubelík really had to struggle to keep the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra going and even had to defend Czech music in its programs; how he was allowed to set anything down is a wonder in itself.

I assume that the Mercury pressing were issued before Kubelík defected to the West in 1948. The recording was also issued  on an LP too - I wonder if  that sounds any better.

Mrs Smetana [No. 2] & Mr Smetana in 1862

I have included with the music an image of the record album together with the notes by David Hall that accompanied the records.


  1. Oh great, look forward to this too - thanks again! Nick

  2. Thanks Jols - I;ve never heard this piece before. FYI, the Mercury 78 set was reviewed in Billboard's issue of 21 August 1948 (where it's described as Mercury Classics' "second release"), and in Saturday Review's issue of 28 August 1948. The latter, written by Irving Kolodin, wasn't favorable; he said "Second-rate writing and antiquated recording. However, the performance is spirited, for those Smetana fanciers who cherish every note he wrote."

  3. Dear Bryan

    Kolodin sums it up very nicely 'Spirited' is just the right adjective. Your right, its not a piece that is much performed and I knew nothing of it myself until I purchased these recordings. Always liked Kubelik so knew that it had to be worth listening to. I suppose being a 'second rate' work it has unfortunately produced a few recordings by unsympathetic conductors.

  4. Jols - This piece has always struck me as a bore, but maybe that is, as you say, just the effect of unsympathetic interpreters. Let's try this one, which is new to me.

  5. Dear Buster

    Your proably right but at least they give it their all. Off to New York tomorrow so no blogging for me for a couple of weeks, boo hoo