Music review: Conductor Darrell Ang and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra offer lively performances

Obscure Classics

SMETANA Festive Symphony

The Bartered Bride: Overture & Dances

Berlin Radio Symphony / DARRELL ANG

Naxos 8.573672 / ****1/2

At the rate he is going, Darrell Ang could well become the most recorded Singaporean conductor of all time. His recorded repertoire has been diverse and this disc features the music of Bedrich Smetana (1824-1884), hailed as the “Father of Czech music”. Although very well known for his symphonic poem cycle Ma Vlast (My Country) from the 1870s, his early Festive Symphony of 1854 is virtually unknown.

As a loyal subject of the Habsburg empire, he quoted the Emperor’s Hymn (popularised by Joseph Haydn in his “Emperor” String Quartet, Op.76 No.3) in three of its four movements. The work runs to almost 43 minutes, and almost outstays its welcome amid grand fanfares and martial postures, culminating in the Hymn blared out at its triumphal and grandstanding conclusion.

Only in the dance-like 3rd movement does one hear Smetana’s nationalism at play, looking forward to Dvorak’s popular Slavonic Dances to come. The fill-up in this album are the Overture and three fast dances – Polka, Furiant and Dance Of The Comedians – from the nationalist opera The Bartered Bride. These, rather than the symphony, constitute vintage Smetana and represents his best music. Darrell Ang and the excellent Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra offer lively performances, comparable with the best recordings in the catalogue. For the rarely heard and seldom recorded symphony, they have the field to their own, so do have a listen.

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