Now that all nine of Dvorak's symphonies are being performed, the concertos he wrote before his masterpiece for cello are getting more exposure, too. That very early cello concerto in A minor, which Dvorak did not actually finish scoring, is available on records but may never enter the general repertory; his other two concertos, though (one each for piano and violin), are both solid, mature works that are coming more and more into their own.
For many years it was Rudolf Firkusny alone who kept the Piano Concerto alive, and he thought he committed it to records three times. The Violin Concerto was never quite as neglected as the Piano Concerto -- Menuhin, Milstein, Perlman, Ricci, Stern and the unforgettable Johanna Martzy are among those who recorded it -- but this work, too, has had one outstanding champion, in the person of the composer's great-grandson, the distinguished Czeh violinist Josef Suk, whose second recording of the Concerto with the Czech Philharmonic has just been issued by Supraphon (1410 2423). As before, the Concerto is coupled with Dvorak's Romance in F minor for violin and orchestra; this time the conductor is Vaclav Neumann.
Suk's 1960 recording of these two works, with Karel Ancerl conducting, has turned up on various labels from time to time, and at present is available on Quintessence PMC-7112 (also cassette, P4C-7112). In the remake, taped two years ago, the opening movement of the Concerto is taken a little more expansively than before, while the slow movement is a mite more taut, but essentially the interpretation is the same eloquent, deepfelt, utterly persuasive one.
It might be said that Neumann's conducting is a little on the ceremonial side, as contrasted with the somewhat more genial, spontaneous feeling from Ancerl; but, again, there is little real difference to be noted -- except in the sound itself, which is clearly superior in respect to clarity of detail in the newer version. The new Supraphon is recorded in compatible "SQ" quadraphony, in case anyone cares. (There is no notice of co-production with Nippon Columbia on this record as there is on several other recent Supraphohs so don't expect a Denon digital edition.) The Quintessence is a genuine bargain and as already noted, is available in cassette form. One of the other of these two recordings ought to be in every collection.
Neumann and the Czech Philharmonic are in the process of recording all the symphonies of Bohuslav Martinu as part of Supraphon's current project of recording all of that composer's major works. Following last year's release of the First Symphonies Nos 2 and 6 (1410 2096, quadro).
The Sixth Symphony, completed in 1953 and originally titled "Fantaisies symphoniques," is the last and most successful work in Martinu's symphonic cycle, composed for Charles Munch, who made a stunning recording of it just after the Boston premiere in 1955. There have been other recordings since that one, but none in the catalogue in the last few years. Neumann's, almost a match for Munch interpretively and easily surpassing all its predecessors sonically, is especially welcome now, and so is the opportunity this disc affords of getting acquainted with the Second Symphony.
The Second, which preceded the Sixth by 10 years, was described by Martinu as "calme et lyrique"; it was written in American and was his way of reacting to the war, with, as he put it, "serene ideas expressed in calm concept and order" rather than "any professional and technical expression of torture.' The last two of its four movements are dancelike and rather jolly, though there is a citation of a phrase from the "Marseillaise" all but buried in the third movement. Aside from the question of wartime connotations, the Second Symphony is a solid delight and is certain to be regarded as a happy discovery by listeners introduced to it via this superbly felt, handsomely recorded performance. It should also do much to create a receptive audience for the rest of this series.