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.