SMETANA Má Vlast
In a market crammed with recordings of Má vlast – several as historically significant as they are musically penetrating – the 35-year-old Czech conductor Jakub Hrůša is trying hard to make his presence felt. His 2010 release with the Prague Philharmonia was marked by its exuberance and transparence, thanks in part to the ensemble’s chamber dimensions. With the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra he achieves the same effect, while ramping up the drama a few notches.
Admittedly, it takes him a while to relax into it; the first four movements reveal all the diligence of a still-maturing conductor doing his duty by his country’s musical deity. The result is straightforward, frill-free playing, with a keen ear for phrasing and detail. He paints the landscape vividly, whether the rapids of St John’s or the dark shadows of Bohemia’s meadows and forests, but any number of interpretations will do that. For one that can stand up among the best of them – the Ančerl; the Kubelík; the Smetáček – you need an extra level of emotional charge.
At last, Hrůša provides this in the final two movements. Here, in music often dismissed as an afterthought and sometimes jettisoned in performance altogether, we find raw energy, theatricality and, perhaps most strikingly, pathos. There’s plenty of it in ‘Blaník’, where Hrůša lingers over the delicate interplay of oboe, horn and clarinet. Moreover, ‘Tábor’ speaks with a revolutionary zeal that reminds us why Smetana wrote it in the first place: as a patriotic portrait of the Hussites, who introduced Protestantism to Bohemia a century before it hit Germany. Recommended.