About this Recording

Bedrich Smetana (1824 - 1884)
Ma Vlast (My Country)

Vltava (Moldau)
Z ceskych luhu a haju (From Bohemia's Woods and Fields)

Antonín Dvorak (1841 - 1904)
The Water Goblin (Vodnik), Op. 107

Jean Sibelius (1865 - 1957)
The Swan of Tuonela, Op. 22, No.3

Finlandia, Op. 26

Franz Liszt (1811 - 1886)
Hungarian Rhapsody No.2 in D Minor (Originally No.12)

Ma Vlast (My Country) is among the best known of all Smetana's music, a cycle of six symphonic poems that conjure up the spirit of Bohemia, its history and traditions, reflected in its landscape. The period of composition was one of some difficulty. By October 1874 Smetana was, for the moment at least, completely deaf and in continuous pain. By 18th November he had completed Vyšehrad, the first symphonic poem of the cycle, which he may have started to sketch two years earlier. He immediately began work on the second, Vltava. At the same time he was completing his Czech opera Libuše. In January he was able to begin the third symphonic poem of the cycle, sarka, followed, in June, by From Bohemia's Woods and Fields, the last of what had been intended as a tetralogy. The success of these works persuaded him to consider continuing the cycle, which he did with Tabor, completed by December 1878, and Blanik, finally orchestrated in March 1879. The whole work was dedicated to the city of Prague. These two additional movements were well received and in 1882 there was a performance in Prague of the whole cycle, greeted by audience and critics with the greatest enthusiasm.

Vltava, the River Moldau, follows the course of the river, where two streams, one cold, one warm, join the main stream, to flow through the Bohemian countryside, its woods with huntsmen, a peasant wedding, moonlight and dancing water-spirits, the rapids of St. John, and flowing on to join the Elbe. The sound of the water provides an element of unity to music that is broadly in rondo form, with the Vltava theme, perhaps derived from a Swedish folk-song, now epitomizing the spirit of Bohemia.

From Bohemia's Woods and Fields portrays the Bohemian landscape. Smetana suggested an outline programme, with the first strong impression of one arriving in the country, the sight of a simple country-girl walking through the fields, noon on a summer's day, with the shade of the woods, the singing of birds and a final harvest and festival in peasant celebration.

Four of the five symphonic poems of Dvorak are based on poems by Karel Jarmfr Erben; a collection of ballads published under the collective title of The Garland. The first of these, Vodnik, The Water Goblin, finds the malicious spirit of the title singing of his coming marriage on the following day. The girl he is to marry has been irresistibly drawn to the goblin in the water, although her mother has warned her not to go near the lake. As she approaches the water, the ground sinks beneath her feet and she is drawn down into the water, where she becomes the goblin's wife. In the depths of the lake she grows sad, since it is in this gloomy place that the goblin holds the souls of those who have drowned. She sings a song to her child in which she regrets what has happened. When the goblin hears her complaint, he is angry and threatens to change her into a fish, but is persuaded to allow her to return for one day to dry land, although he keeps her child as a hostage against her return. The girl and her mother are overjoyed that they are together again, and when the goblin angrily knocks at the door, he is turned away by the girl's mother .At this he raises a great storm, during the course of which something is hurled against the door of the house: it is the body of the child, its head cut from the body. The tragic and gruesome story is reflected in the musical narrative.

Jean Sibelius, a figure of the greatest importance in the music of Scandinavia and in the late romantic symphony, was born in Finland, of Finnish ancestry, but educated first, as befitted his social position as the son of a doctor, in Swedish. It was at school that he acquired his knowledge of Finnish literature, and particularly his fascination with the ancient sagas in which the legends of his country are recounted.

The year 1895 saw the first composition of a series of four episodes from the legend of Lemminkainen, from the epic Kalevala. The third of these, The Swan of Tuonela, was envisaged at first as the prelude to an opera, The Burning of the Boat, a project soon abandoned, after a visit by the composer to Bayreuth. Lemminkainen's Return formed the fourth section of a work that in later life Sibelius was to refer to as a symphony. The Swan of Tuonela, represented by the cor anglais, glides over the black waters that surround Tuonela, the land of the dead. Lemminkainen, a young hero, undergoes various adventures with Pohjola, the North Country, where he seeks a wife. He had tried to kill the Swan of Tuoni, but had perished in the attempt, only to be brought to life by the magic power of his mother.

Finlandia was written in 1899 as part of an unlikely Press Pensions Celebration. The three connected movements of the tone-poem express the spirit of Finland, using material that has all the appearance of a national origin, although the melodies are the creation of the composer.

Liszt's legacy as a composer is a remarkable one. As a performer he led the way to new feats of virtuosity, a fact that has led some to regard his work as nothing more than facile showmanship. Yet even in those popular transcriptions where an element of the meretricious may seem to predominate, there is evidence of a strong and extraordinary musical intelligence and originality. His influence on his contemporaries was considerable: subsequent generations have found in his music some justification for claims that he and Wagner put forward as propagators of the music of the future.

Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies, whatever their provenance, captured the interest of Europe in the middle of the nineteenth century. The very title Rhapsody was something new, and suggested the finer flights of imagination, untrammelled by the restrictions of the sonata. The second, twelfth in the original version for piano and dedicated to the violinist Joachim, has always been one of the most popular of the set orchestrated by Liszt in 1853 with the help of the conductor Franz Doppler, one of the founders of the Hungarian Philharmonic Orchestra, who visited him in Weimar in the following year.

The Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Katowice (PNRSO)
The Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Katowice (PNRSO) was founded in 1935in Warsaw through the initiative of well-known Polish conductor and composer Grzegorz Fitelberg. Under his direction the ensemble worked till the outbreak of the World War II. Soon after the war, in March 1945, the orchestra was resurrected in Katowice by the eminent Polish conductor Witold Rowicki. In 1947 Grzegorz Fitelberg returned to Poland and became artistic director of the PNRSO. He was followed by a series of distinguished Polish conductors - Jan Krenz, Bohdan Wodiezko, Kazimierz Kord, Tadeusz Strugala, Ierzy Maksymiuk, Stanislaw Wislocki and, since 1983, Antoni Wit. The orchestra has appeared with conductors and soloists of the greatest distinction and has recorded for Polskie Nagrania and many international record labels. For Naxos, the PNRSO will record the complete symphonies of Tchaikovsky and Mahler.

Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava)
The Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava), the oldest symphonic ensemble in Slovakia, was founded in 1929 at the instance of Milos Ruppeldt and Oskar Nedbal, prominent personalities in the sphere of music. Ondrej Lenard was appointed its conductor in 1970 and in 1977 its conductor-in-chief. The orchestra has given successful concerts both at home and abroad, in Germany, Russia, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Spain, Italy, Great Britain, Hong Kong and Japan. For Marco Polo the orchestra has recorded works by Glazunov, Glière, Miaskovsky and other late romantic composers and film music of Honegger, Bliss, Ibert and Khachaturian as well as several volumes of the label's Johann Strauss Edition. Naxos recordings include symphonies and ballets by Tchaikovsky, and symphonies by Berlioz and Saint-Saëns.

Hungarian State Opera Orchestra
The Hungarian State Opera was established in Budapest in 1884 and has enjoyed an illustrious history as one of the principal musical institutions of the country. The orchestra of the State Opera occupies a similar position, with a distinguished past also in the concert-hall, as well as, in the present century, in the recording studio.

Antoni Wit
Antoni Wit was born in Cracowin 1944 and studied there, before becoming assistant to Witold Rowicki with the National Philharmonic Orchestra in Warsaw in 1967. He studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris and with Penderecki and in 1971 was a prize-winner in the Herbert von Karajan Competition. Study at Tanglewood with Skrowaczewski and Seiji Ozawa was followed by appointment as Principal Conductor first of the Pomeranian Philharmonic and then of the Cracow Radio Symphony Orchestra. In 1983 he took up the position of Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra in Katowice. Antoni Wit has undertaken many engagements abroad with major orchestras, ranging from the Berlin Philharmonic and the BBC Welsh and Scottish Symphony Orchestras to the Kusatsu Festival Orchestra in Japan.

Kenneth Schermerhorn
Kenneth Schermerhorn was Music Director and Principal Conductor of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra from 1984 until 1989. He has served also as Music Director of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra and Music Adviser to the White Plains Symphony in New York. Born in Schenectady, New York, he began his musical career as a trumpet-player, turning to conducting during his army service, when he conducted the United States Seventh Army Symphony Orchestra. After studying with Leonard Bernstein, Schermerhorn became Assistant Conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra for the 1959-1960 season. From 1963 to 1968 he directed the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra with which he introduced the Sixth Symphony of Roger Sessions to the public.

Mátyás Antal
Mátyás Antal was born in 1945 into a family of musicians and completed his training at the Ferenc Liszt Academy in Budapest as a flautist and a conductor. In 1972, the year after his graduation, he joined the Hungarian State Orchestra as a flautist, but in the last ten years has been principally employed as a conductor, specialising initially in contemporary music. In 1984 he was appointed chorus-master of the Budapest Choir and two years later became associate conductor of the Hungarian State Orchestra. He appears frequently as a conductor in his native country as well as in East and West Germany, Austria and Greece, and has made a number of recordings for Hungaroton.

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