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Penguin Guide, January 2009

Foerster’s Fourth Symphony is one of the best-kept secrets of Czech music. Composed, like its two companions on this CD, during the early part of Foerster’s stay in Vienna, it shows the influence of Bruckner and Mahler. It is a long work, some 47 minutes in length, and of striking quality. Its Scherzo is worthy of Dvořák himself and is among the most captivating movements of its kind composed anywhere at this period. The opening of the work has great nobility and depth, and it leaves the listener in no doubt that this is a symphony of real substance. It is surpassed in its quality of inspiration only by Suk’s Asrael. The Festive Overture of 1907 and the somewhat earlier Op. 44 symphonic poem, My Youth, are both first recordings and are well worth a place in the repertory. The American conductor Lance Friedel is obviously committed to this music and gets a very good response from the Slovak orchestra. Recommended with enthusiasm.

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, September 2006

“Excellent stuff for admirers of the Czech muse. The Symphony is the work by which Foerster is perhaps best known. From its opening Mahlerian march, with its allusions to the First Symphony (Mahler's Bohemianism is another link) we meet a sombrely unfolding opening Molto sostenuto. The slow movement is a glorious one and here Friedel really expands and wrings every drop of emotion. The orchestral balance here is especially judicious.

The Naxos performance is characterised by fine balances and care; it's a warmly sympathetic reading. So newcomers will revel in Foerster's splendid Symphony and will enjoy the crisp and affectionate direction of the Naxos and at bargain price.

John France
MusicWeb International, September 2006

“I can recommend this music to all listeners who enjoy ‘late romantic’ music - all those who love the works of Mahler and Dvorak and Bruckner will relate to much in these three works.”

Carl Bauman
American Record Guide, August 2006

Foerster’s Fourth Symphony was written in Vienna in 1905 and first performed that November in Prague by Oskar Nedbal. Foerster was clearly under Mahler’s influence at the time. Foerster was a deeply religious man, and the work uses material from Easter celebrations in small Czech towns. He even goes so far as to quote a 1687 Czech hymn, ‘And on the Third Day the Creator Rose from the Dead’, as an organ solo in IV. …One doesn’t have to be religious to appreciate the masterly orchestral writing.

Of the three recordings the newest may have the best sound…It also has the first recording of My Youth, which is one of the first things he wrote after moving to Vienna in 1903. It is filled with vigorous, confidant themes and is very well written.

The orchestra plays well in all three works…the disc is certainly worth having at Naxos’s bargain price.

Phil Vendy
Fine Music, August 2006

The fact that Foerster isn't as celebrated as his acquain­tances Dvorak and Mahler can't be anything to do with his remarkable capacity for devising good melodies. His music is almost euphoric, the kind of thing you look for but often can't find when you're in a celebratory mood but don't want anything mushy. Naxos brings us two world premiere recordings on the one CD, Foerster's Opus 44 and Opus 70, while the 4th symphony is a grand assertion of the Czech composer's Catholic principles, though you can enjoy it with or without religious affiliations. The timpani and melodic opening to the Festive Overture take us immediately into a world of gaiety, almost a fin-de-siecle glimpse of Vienna which Foerster summons again later on, but this is a million miles away from any ballroom. My Youth has more of the pastoral about it, reflectively optimistic rather than stridently so, while Opus 54 opens in the shade, even with foreboding. With four lengthy movements to this symphony, Foerster makes full use of the potential of a large orchestra, giving plenty of scope for all sections to make their mark in the orchestral complexity of this work. Occasionally the link from one thematic development to the next isn't particularly fluent, but almost before you've noticed one tune is done, Foerster is off with another. The culmination of the symphony is a joyous outpouring of sound, the orchestra joined by organ in resplendent triumph. What an enthralling piece it must be, to experience in the concert hall! Friedel and the Slovak RSO do a wonderful job of giving this work the enthusiasm that it begs. They really sound as though they enjoyed this commission, and you'll enjoy it with them if you're looking for a respite from the 21st century glums.

Carl Bauman
American Record Guide, July 2006

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R.D., May 2006

Given the reputation of Josef Bohuslav Foerster (born in 1859, a year before his friend and fellow-Bohemian Mahler, whom he outlived by 40 years) in what used to be Czechoslovakia before the schism that produced two nations, his state-side reputation on discs has been inexplicably negligible. Although he composed five operas, five symphonies, four masses, Czech-flavored tone poems, a cello concerto and assorted chamber works, there have been only three recordings – including this new one – of his acknowledged masterpiece for orchestra, the “Easter Eve” Fourth Symphony, premiered in 1905. Rafael Kubelik made the first one in 1948; the other was a clog-footed version by Vaclav Smetacek, a willing collaborator with whatever regime occupied Czechoslovakia. It is a work that Kubelik took 49 minutes to interpret, two more than Lance Friedel on Naxos who plays it and the two shorter companion pieces with a fervor matched in his excellent program note. All three works, despite Foerster’s longevity, are fin de siécle; the newest is the 1907 Festive Overture composed for the opening of a theater in Prague; the oldest, and arguably the loveliest melodically as well as temperamentally, is My Youth (Mé Mládi) written soon after his move to Vienna in 1903 for the next 15 years at Mahler’s invitation. It suggests a charmed childhood and, were it not for Foerster’s prior date of composition, a Bohemian cousin of Richard Strauss’ Rosenkavalier. However, the symphony was a grander undertaking, philosophically and religiously as well as musically. Far from Strauss (although not, perhaps, Dvorak in the subject matter and scoring of the scherzo, marked Allegro deciso), it is in the structural and spiritual thrall of Bruckner, most notably the Fifth Symphony. An Easter hymn among its themes is played on a distant church organ, which leads to a mightily proclamative coda in the home key of C major. The playing of the Slovak Radio Symphony at Bratislava is especially beguiling in My Youth, although for maximum effect the “Easter Eve” Symphony needs a Czech or Vienna Philharmonic – a full instrumental panoply which the SRS simply hasn’t the resources to match – nor is the recording quite open and full-blooded, although a paragon of clarity. For all that, Friedel continues to impress as he did in MSR Classics' recent collection of tone poems and the Aladdin Suite of Carl Nielsen. With Yablonsky, Friedel and Schwarz on the roster, Naxos may be proud of its talent-scouting, leaving us anxious for more. Congratulations all around.

Arthur Lintgen

When I first heard this CD, I thought that Josef Bohuslav Foerster's music was a bunch of pretentious orchestral claptrap, but repeated listenings revealed numerous unsuspected felicities. Foerster is a minor Romantic composer whose easily accessible music should appeal to anyone who enjoys Dvorak and Smetana, or even watered down Richard Strauss. The Festive Overture is a ceremonial piece composed in 1907 for the opening of a new theater in Prague. It opens with an arresting timpani motif that the composer passes through other sections of the orchestra with some minimal variations. It becomes a brass fanfare before returning toward the end. There is quite a bit going on musically here, but the dense block-like orchestration makes it sound simplistic.Me mladi contrasts a jaunty, syncopated theme with a gorgeous, lyrical effusion that closely resembles the motto theme of Carl Nielsen's Fourth Symphony with an added Dvorakian lilt. Foerster's symphonic poem was actually composed before Nielsen's symphony. The orchestration is more varied in Me mladi, but a dramatically ineffective series of false endings weakens it from a structural standpoint.The Symphony No.4 is a major work that is clearly on a higher creative plane. Foerster was a devout Roman Catholic, and this piece, subtitled "Easter Eve," is presumably a reflection of his religious beliefs. It is full of pleasant melodies and more finely nuanced orchestration, but it is still probably too long. The second movement is a case in point. Despite the presence of several charming melodic ideas, it is just too repetitive. A symphony like this typically runs into finale problems, and this at least partially turns out to be the case. The fourth movement is nearly 16 minutes in length. It begins with a slow six-minute Lento that just meanders along and goes nowhere. You want him to get on with it. The tempo picks up slightly, and then the same thing happens again. Foerster's musical style and religious background have been compared to Bruckner. They may both be long-winded, but Foerster clearly lacks Bruckner's distinctive personal voice. An organ joins the orchestra in the expected radiant conclusion that the program notes liken to "approaching the gates of heaven."

This is a solid orchestral recording that presents an honest sonic portrait of a full symphony orchestra in a concert hall, but is consistently lacking in the harmonic richness and dynamic impact that the music requires. The organ does provide a suitably rich sonority as it underpins the full orchestra at the end. As is the case with many Romantic pieces on the periphery of the basic repertoire, the music becomes dull when it is played by a provincial orchestra, which is exactly what The Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra is. I would venture to say that Foerster's Fourth Symphony would provide a sumptuous orgy of sound if it were played by an orchestra with the sonic luster and virtuosity of the Philadelphia Orchestra or the Vienna Philharmonic. Unfortunately, recording companies rarely have the nerve to use world-class orchestras in risky ventures like this. Nevertheless, anyone interested in large scale, off the beaten track, late 19th-century Romantic music should enjoy this.

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