Artistic Quality: 9
Sound Quality: 9
The three symphonies (and other orchestral works) of Zdenĕk Fibich enjoy a tenuous hold on the repertoire and even less than that outside of the Czech lands, but they are all enjoyable well-made works. They have been recorded notably by Karel Šejna (in mono), and more recently quite well by Neeme Järvi for Chandos. Naxos’ cycle is the most comprehensive, containing the symphonies, tone poems, overtures, and other orchestral music, and yields to none in quality. Marek Štilec understands the music, and conducts with obvious conviction, as well as that lively rhythmic impulse that all Czech music seems to possess, even when (as here) it does not sound obviously Czech (i.e. like Dvořak). The scherzo is particularly appealing, and this is one of the few romantic symphonies with a moderately paced, Allegro maestoso finale that actually works–it’s not inflated, bombastic, or dull.
The couplings are also well worth having, and virtually impossible to find elsewhere outside of the old Supraphon recordings of the complete works in question. They are all quite substantial (8+ minutes each) and deserve an independent concert live. Once again, Štilec proves a completely reliable and sympathetic guide to music that reveals Fibich’s well-developed dramatic side rather more effectively than in the relatively conservative symphonies. The Ostrava orchestra plays very well, with a good bit more sophistication and refinement of the ensemble than used to be the case, and perhaps Štilec deserves credit for that as well. Warm, realistic sonics round out this appealing picture.
Marek Štilec began his musical studies on the violin at the Prague Conservatory and studied conducting with Leoš Svárovský at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. Štilec is an alumnus of the International Järvi Academy and Jac van Steen’s Emerging Conductors Series, and has participated in the masterclasses of Michael Tilson Thomas and Jorma Panula, among others.
He conducts a wide range of leading orchestras, including the New World Symphony, the Ulster Orchestra, Das Kurpfälzische Kammerorchester Mannheim, the Wiener Concertverein Orchester, the Orchestra of the Swan, the London Classical Soloists, the Berlin Camerata, the Kammerphilharmonie Graz and Sinfonietta Bratislava, as well as the top orchestras in the Czech Republic.