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Foerster: Symphony No 4. (c) 1994 Supraphon

The Fourth Symphony (1905), subtitled 'Easter Eve' (James MacMillan, with his celebrated symphonic triptych, was by no means the first to treat the Easter festival symphonically), is a good way of starting on Foerster. The Supraphon recording (1968) is a little dated, but coming from l968, and under Václav Smetacek, the Prague Symphony Orchestra displays some of the stunning qualities of musicianship and timbre associated with the Czech Philharmonic during those vintage years. Just listen to the quality of the cellos and violas, topped out by piccolo, in the awesome, Sibelian dark opening ('Calvary') [listen -- Symphony No 4 track 1, 0:00-1:11], or the mellow flute tune that heralds a surge in the double basses and anguished brass outburst: here is a symphony with something to say.

As it unfolds, the work reveals a clear line of descent from Dvorák -- the F major 5th and D major 6th Symphonies, for instance -- all the more marked because of the distinctive style of playing, notably the fine woodwind. There are affinities, too with early Tchaikovsky (Winter Daydreams and the Little Russian) in the enchanting scherzo ('A Child's Good Friday'), like a sunlit sleigh-ride. The muted opening string solo [listen -- Symphony No 4 track 3, 0:00-1:00] -- is it viola or cello? -- in the gorgeously meditative Andante sostenuto ushers in a movement of profound beauty, with some of the added solemnity of Smetana's myth-inspired Vysehrad (from Ma Vlast), or his national opera, Libuse.

The dark Parsifalian opening to the final movement [listen -- Symphony No 4 track 4, 0:00-1:08] reveals something of where Foerster was coming from musically; yet from this darkness, by way of optimistic string soli and an effectively contrived fugal build-up -- compare the Viennese composer Franz Schmidt's symphonic approach at around the same time -- emerges a triumphant assertion ('The Victory of Holy Saturday'). Powerful stuff.

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Copyright © 10 November 2001 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK

 

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CD INFORMATION - SUPRAPHON SU 3001-2 612

PURCHASE 'EVA', SU 3001-2 612 FROM AMAZON

SUPRAPHON WEBSITE

CD INFORMATION - SUPRAPHON 11 1822-2 011

PURCHASE SYMPHONY NO 4, 11 1822-2 011 FROM AMAZON

 

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