Thursday, January 22, 2015

Rafael Kubelík's First Recording

Rafael Kubelík, 1937
The great Czech maestro Rafael Kubelík (1914-1996) made no less than three commercial studio recordings of Smetana's cycle of symphonic poems, Má Vlast in its complete form: the first for Mercury in 1951, with the Chicago Symphony; the second for Decca/London in 1958, with the Vienna Philharmonic, and the third for Deutsche Grammophon in 1971, with the Boston Symphony. There have also been commercial releases of live performances. Obviously Kubelík had a passionate identification with the work, and so it's fitting that his first-ever recording, made at the age of 23 while the Czech Philharmonic was on tour in London in 1937, should have been of two of the cycle's most popular segments:

Smetana: The Moldau (Vltava) and
From Bohemia's Meadows and Forests (Z českých luhův a hájův)
(Nos. 2 and 4 from the symphonic cycle "Má Vlast")
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Rafael Kubelík
Recorded October 30, 1937
RCA Victor set DM-523, three 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files. 69.33 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 44.79 MB)

The Czech Philharmonic came to London three times during the late 1930s to concertize and make recordings. The 1937 visit also produced a recording of Dvořák's "New World" Symphony conducted by George Szell. For the other tours, in 1935 and 1938, the conductor was the orchestra's music director, Václav Talich, who between the two visits produced priceless recordings of Dvořák's Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Symphonies and complete Slavonic Dances, plus Josef Suk's Serenade for Strings.  Talich stayed home for the 1937 tour, however, so Szell and Kubelík deputized.


  1. Bryan - Many thanks for doing this. I thought I had this set in my collection but I guess not. I remember hearing it decades ago but have no recollection of the performance. Look forward to hearing this today. Love that prewar Czech PO sound!

  2. There is a fourth recording that Kubelik made, I believe in the early 1980s, which seems to also be a studio version, and not in front of an audience (as with his valedictory 1990 Prague Spring performance). It's with the Bavarian Radio Symphony, probably when he was still conductor of that ensemble. I have the recording, which was issued on the Orfeo label.