Rafael Kubelik (1914 – 1996) è uno di quei direttori di cui non si parlerà mai bene a sufficienza. Figlio del leggendario violinista Jan Kubelik, fu uno dei pochissimi figli d’ arte che siano riusciti a eguagliare, se non a superare, la carriera del padre. Tra le sue interpretazioni i cui esiti sono stati in pochissimi a eguagliare, le Sinfonie di Antonin Dvořák occupano una posizione preminente insieme a quelle di Schumann, che il Maestro incise due volte con esiti ancor oggi assolutamente ineguagliati. La registrazione integrale delle Ouvertures e del ciclo sinfonico di Dvořák realizzata da Kubelik tra il 1966 e il 1973 per la Deutsche Grammophon, con i Berliner Philharmoniker e la Simphonieorchester des Bayerisches Rundfunk della quale Kubelik fu Chefdirigent dal 1961 al 1979, è considerata ancor oggi come la versione di riferimento. Il video che presento oggi è quello di un’ esecuzione realizzata da Kubelik con la sua orchestra bavarese nel dicembre del 1977. L’ interpretazione è di altissimo livello, forse addirittura preferibile all’ incisione ufficiale con i Berliner. Un’ esecuzione assolutamente avvincente oltre che idiomatica dal punto di vista stilistico, da ascoltare e meditare a fondo.
Insieme al video, vi propongo questo articolo comemmorativo apparso sul New York Times in occasione del primo anniversario della morte dell’ artista.
Gifted, Enigmatic And the Last Of a Species
By DAVID MERMELSTEIN
Published: July 27, 1997
UNTIL ABOUT 35 YEARS ago, talented Central European conductors seemed to occupy podiums everywhere. George Szell, Fritz Reiner, Eugene Ormandy and Antal Dorati, the most famous of those musicians in the United States, inspired near-reverence in some quarters and often fierce partisanship as well. Others, like Istvan Kertesz, Ferenc Fricsay and Lovro von Matacic, delighted music lovers of more specialized tastes.
A year ago, when Rafael Kubelik died at 82, the world lost the last of these gifted, idiosyncratic maestros. (The Hungarian-born Georg Solti remains vital, but he has always seemed more Teutonic than anything else.)
Kubelik was an enigmatic figure. Though few doubted his musical gifts, he was unable to retain plum appointments at the Chicago Symphony, Covent Garden in London and the Metropolitan Opera. Some have therefore questioned his lasting importance as a conductor.
But such a view places political and administrative skills above artistic concerns. With such estimable ensembles as the Czech Philharmonic and the Bavarian Radio Symphony, as well as with the Chicago Symphony and other celebrated orchestras, Kubelik delivered heartfelt, idiomatic interpretations, regularly distinguished by excitement and intelligence.
On record, as recent reissues suggest, the conductor, a son of the great Czech violinist Jan Kubelik, specialized in the core repertory of Middle Europe: the symphonies of Dvorak and Mahler, and the large orchestral scores of Smetana, Janacek and Bartok. In the concert hall, however, Kubelik devoted considerable energy to more esoteric fare.
That commitment to the cutting edge cost him dearly. During his three seasons with the Chicago Symphony, where he preceded Reiner in the early 1950’s, his performances of new American works met with indifference from the public and hostility in the press. Claudia Cassidy, the city’s most powerful music critic, proved particularly unforgiving. As a result, Kubelik’s tenure, while not altogether unproductive, was also not happy.
But if Chicagoans failed to appreciate their maestro’s gifts, others were not so obdurate. Kubelik regularly earned good notices in Europe, and outstanding orchestras there, including the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics, were only too happy to work with him. He was especially popular in Munich, where he directed the Bavarian Radio Symphony from 1961 to 1980.
He even returned to the scenes of former ignominies. From 1966 on, he was a popular guest conductor in Chicago, and he appeared regularly in New York, though with the New York Philharmonic rather than the Met. Heart disease and arthritis compelled him to retire from the podium in 1985, but in 1990 he journeyed to Prague to celebrate his homeland’s liberation from Communist rule. Honored with opening the first Prague Spring Festival, he led the Czech Philharmonic in a performance of ”Ma Vlast” (”My Homeland”), by Smetana; 45 years earlier, he had celebrated the Nazis’ departure from the Czech capital by conducting the same work.
Happily, proof of Kubelik’s incisive musicianship survives him. He left a substantial discography, and much of it is available on CD. Of particular interest are several items only recently transferred to the digital medium.
On two stunningly engineered Mercury disks, Kubelik conducts the Chicago Symphony in music by Mussorgsky, Bartok and Smetana, giving imaginative accounts of familiar repertory. Reissued in the label’s lauded Living Presence line, and expertly remastered for CD by Wilma Cozart Fine, these recordings are in outstanding monaural sound. Incidentally, it was Howard Taubman of The New York Times who, on hearing the Mussorgsky and Bartok records when they first appeared, in 1951, coined the term ”living presence.” Even today, it is easy to understand why he was impressed.
Listeners have come to expect a solid wall of sound in warhorses like Mussorgsky’s ”Pictures at an Exhibition,” but Kubelik’s performance of the Ravel orchestration (Mercury 434 378-2) tries something entirely different. The conductor culls distinct instrumental voices from the orchestra, so one hears the work in a new way, appreciating its merits freshly.
Compared with Reiner’s legendary 1957 recording for RCA, also with the Chicago Symphony, Kubelik’s ”Pictures” is in many ways more impressive. Against his nuanced account, Reiner’s version often sounds pompous and routine. In Reiner’s ”Old Castle,” for instance, the saxophone representing the troubadour is blended into the aural picture; Kubelik brings this unlikely instrument forward, lending melancholy point to the minstrel’s song.
In Bartok’s challenging Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, which fills out this CD, Kubelik is just as persuasive, peerless in his ability to conjure atmosphere. He takes the Andante tranquillo slower by two minutes than Reiner does in his benchmark RCA recording from 1958, and infuses the movement with far more mystery than Dorati manages on a rival Mercury disk. Whereas Reiner brings crispness to the spiky Allegro, Kubelik lends it feral propulsion. And his rivals cannot match the hypnotic quality he achieves in the ethereal Adagio or the unfettered exuberance of his finale.
KUBELIK ALSO THRILLS in ”Ma Vlast” (Mercury 434 379-2). Recorded in 1952 in Chicago, this was the first complete recording of the six-part tone poem by a non-Czech orchestra. It is fitting that Kubelik should have been wielding the baton. Before World War II, he had already recorded sections of the work with the Czech Philharmonic, and this account reveals an almost preternatural connection with the music.
Although it is tempting to declare Kubelik definitive in this vibrant, nationalistic score, other conductors, notably the great Vaclav Talich, must be considered. Still, Kubelik’s chief competition here remains himself. In addition to this account, there is a highly regarded recording with the Boston Symphony from 1971 on Deutsche Grammophon, and other accounts have surfaced on CD, including a live recording of the Prague Spring Festival performance, on Supraphon.
In ”The Moldau,” the work’s best-known segment, Kubelik and the Chicago Symphony offer a vital evocation of Bohemia’s greatest river flowing through the countryside and into the Elbe. The strings shimmer, and Kubelik proves a master of rhythmic subtlety. His Boston account may be more elegant, but this mono performance thrives on energy.
”From Bohemia’s Meadows and Forests” finds Kubelik practically romping through Smetana’s scenes of sylvan joy. And in ”Tabor” and ”Blanik,” which depict Hussite struggles of the 15th century, the conductor seems possessed by religious zeal. Listeners, too, should feel the spirit, especially in passages from the old hymn ”Ye Who Are God’s Warriors.” By contrast, Kubelik’s Boston Symphony version seems less inspired and a shade too careful.
Deutsche Grammophon has just released a disk of equal merit in its vaunted Originals series. Comprising Mahler’s First Symphony and ”Songs of a Wayfarer” in new digital transfers, it features Kubelik and the Bavarian Radio Symphony (449 735-2). Again, the listener is struck immediately by the conductor’s attention to detail. Whereas others — Leonard Bernstein, for example — have painted Mahler’s music in broad strokes, Kubelik opts for pointillism.
Though Kubelik’s performance of the symphony, from 1968, is not so singular as the one Dimitri Mitropoulos and the Minneapolis Symphony recorded in the 1940’s, its merits place it squarely among the work’s best recordings. Tart, assertive brass playing makes the biggest impression, though the orchestra’s sweet strings and plangent winds also deserve praise. Particularly striking are the jazzy accents Kubelik lends the languorous third movement and the uncommon fervor he summons for the trumpet and horn fanfares in the finale.
In the ”Wayfarer Songs,” from 1970, the baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau still sounds firm-voiced and flexible. Mr. Fischer-Dieskau recorded these songs memorably in 1952 under the baton of Wilhelm Furtwangler, but Kubelik’s account is livelier, and the baritone seems surer of himself with age.
Even though Kubelik’s critics have always had sharper tongues and louder voices than his supporters, the conductor has never lacked for champions. Careful listening to his recordings reveals why: he delivers consistently musical, characterful and energetic performances of music too often taken for granted. The new disks only buttress the case. If, sometime soon, the attention generally reserved for flashier maestros is accorded Kubelik as well, it will be his fair reward.