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Rafael Kubelík

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This set represents Rafael Kubelík’s two live performances with the Concertgebouw-Orchestra Amsterdam and RSO Frankfurt, taped in Frankfurt, Germany from 1959 to 1960. Kubelík was at home in the sound worlds of composers as different as Bruckner, Bartók, Mozart and Hindemith, presented at this release for the first time ever.


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RAFAEL KUBELÍK conducts Bruckner, Bartók, Mozart and Hindemith

CD 1

1-4. Bruckner: Symphony No. 3 in D minor, WAB 103 [59:41]
I. Gemäßigt, mehr bewegt, misterioso [20:29]
II. Adagio. Bewegt, quasi Andante [15:53]
III. Scherzo: Ziemlich schnell [07:18]
IV. Finale: Allegro [16:00]
Concertgebouw-Orchestra Amsterdam
Rafael Kubelík ∙ conductor

Recorded ∙ 20 October 1959 ∙ Frankfurt ∙ Sendesaal ∙ Hessischer Rundfunk ∙ Live Recording

CD 2

1-4. Bartók:Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, Sz. 106 [29:32]
I. Andante tranquillo [07:52]
II. Allegro [07:35]
III. Adagio [07:09]
IV. Allegro molto[06:54]
Concertgebouw-Orchestra Amsterdam
Rafael Kubelík ∙ conductor

Recorded ∙ 20 October 1959 ∙ Frankfurt ∙ Sendesaal ∙ Hessischer Rundfunk ∙ Live Recording

5-7. Mozart:Symphony No. 38 in D Major, KV. 504 [24:42]
I. Adagio—Allegro [10:33]
II. Andante [08:31]
III. Finale: Presto [05:38]
8-11. Hindemith:Symphonic Metamorphosis [20:05]
I. Allegro [04:06]
II. Turandot – Scherzo [07:42]
III. Andantino [03:44]
IV. Marsch [04:32]
Sinfonie-Orchester des Hessischen Rundfunks
Rafael Kubelík ∙ conductor

Recorded ∙ 05 February 1960 ∙ Frankfurt ∙ Sendesaal ∙ Hessischer Rundfunk ∙ Live Recording

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“Much as I like Kubelík, I doubt if he knows his way about the repertoire . . . or has a firm enough way with him to get the desired and necessary results” – Walter Legge

Rafael Jeroným Kubelík was born on June 29, 1914, in Bychory, near Kolin, in what is now the Czech Republic. Kubelík was the 6th of eight children – Rafael had been preceded by 5 sisters and followed by 2 brothers. He was the son of Jan Kubelík, one of the great violinists of the early 20th century, the grandson of a composer, and Marion Csaky-Szell, a Hungarian countess. He studied the violin with his father and the piano with an uncle before attending the Prague Conservatory. When he was 19, he made his professional debut conducting the Czech Philharmonic. Kubelík was graduated from the Prague Conservatory in 1933 at the age of 19, as conductor and composer. He played his own composition, a Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra, and conducted Dvorak’s Othello at his graduation. In January, 1934, with the Czech Philharmonic, he conducted the Tchaikovsky Fourth Symphony in a program in which his father played the Beethoven Concerto and also young Kubelík’s. He then was graduated as a violinist, playing the Paganini Concerto with the orchestra at the public ceremonies. In the Fall of 1934, father and son toured Europe, with young Kubelík playing piano accompaniments at recitals and conducting the orchestral concerts. In 1935, the tour was extended to the principal cities of the United States. Jan Kubelík said in 1935 ”I’m touring every country except Java, travelled by camel, elephant, donkey, horse, railway, automobile and all other possible means of transportation except airplane. I refuse to fly. But Rafael would be glad to fly. That’s another difference between us.” The two Kubelíks had been touring together for about a year, 10 months of which time has been spent in the United States.

In 1936, Vaclav Talich, noted conductor of the Czech Philharmonic for many years, went to the National Opera in Prague and Kubelík, at the age of 22, was made acting conductor. Talich had taken the orchestra on a tour of Europe in 1935 which included several concerts in London. The success of the orchestra raised it to top standing among the European symphonies. The orchestra had been reengaged for 20 concerts in England in 1937 and it was Kubelík who conducted them. His success established him as a leading conductor. The orchestra was reengaged to return in 1938 for 20 concerts with Kubelík. In the same 1937 tour, Kubelík was also hailed at concerts given in Brussels and returned there with the orchestra in 1938. In 1939, in addition to continuing as acting conductor of the Czech Philharmonic in Prague, Kubelík became director and conductor of the National Theater Opera in Brno, second largest Czech city. He was “too busy” with these commitments to accept any concert engagements offered by the Nazis. ”I had lived through one form of bestial tyranny, Nazism,” he told an interviewer about his decision to leave after the Communist takeover. ”As a matter of principle, I was not going to live through another. I left Czechoslovakia in 1948 vowing that I would never return until Communist rule was driven from my homeland. They have invited me back several times — in 1956 and 1966 — with promises of freedom to do anything I wanted. But so long as that system of government rules anywhere, I refuse to set foot on that soil.” In December 1941 — the Nazis were displeased with the Opera in Brno and shut it down. The next month, January 1942, Kubelík was made chief conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, and remained conducting all its concerts in Czechoslovakia during World War II, until 1948.

With the end of the war, in 1945, came many new successes for Kubelík. He was invited to Britain to conduct the BBC Orchestra each year in several concerts at Albert Hall and on the air. During the years that followed, 1946—1947—1948, in addition to his regular activities as conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, Kubelík conducted in Brussels, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Italy, Vienna, Poland, Switzerland. He was also known in Australia, where he toured the principal cities as guest conductor for two months in 1947 and for three months in 1949, appearing with six orchestras on both occasions. In 1948 Kubelík was invited by the Glyndebourne Society — to conduct DON GIOVANNI at the Edinburgh Festival. He also conducted the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra in December, 1948 – returning in January 1949 and again in September 1949. In 1948 — he was so successful with the Winthertur Orchestra in Switzerland that he was invited to return to conduct the Bach Festival in Zurich with the Tonhalle Orchestra in May of 1950.

In January 1949, Kubelík conducted the Concertgebouw of Amsterdam with such success that he was re-engaged to conduct all 36 concerts of the second half of the 1949—50 season. Kubelík’s great success with the BBC Orchestra in London as well as his achievements with the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam led to both organizations offering him extended permanent engagements — which he had to decline because of his new commitment with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra — as their regular conductor. Several British posts were offered to him, but so was the directorship of the Chicago Symphony. A rival offer from the Chicago Symphony, however (and his wife’s preference for the United States to England), took him to Chicago, where he was musical director for three seasons, 1950-53. Kubelík made his Chicago debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on November 17, 1949. His tenure in Chicago was a disastrous experience. Why did Kubelík fail there as music director? The CSO had undergone a rather unstable period with short-termed music directorships by Desire Defauw (1943-47) and Artur Rodzinski (1947-48). Trustees fired music director Rodzinski in 1948, then limped through two years with guest conductors. Kubelík came in and quickly made changes in personnel, firing or demoting several first-desk players. Naturally, this did not sit well with the orchestra. Today, in an era of a strong musicians’ unions, those kinds of changes just don’t take place. But that was an earlier era, and the fact that Kubelík was barely 36 in the fall of 1950 created an atmosphere of hostility within the ranks. Kubelík made more enemies, so did his ambitious programming of contemporary music. During his three years, he conducted 60 new works in Chicago, including pieces by Lukas Foss, Roy Harris, William Schuman and Aaron Copland. He failed to win champions among the critics; indeed, his departure from the post is often ascribed to the implacable opposition of Claudia Cassidy, the chief critic of The Chicago Tribune. She already wrote in 1949 that the 35-year-old Kubelík was superficial and limited in repertoire. Anyway, Kubelík left and a grizzled, autocratic maestro came to Chicago—Fritz Reiner—and the orchestra flourished.

In 1950 Kubelík appeared at all the major Festivals in Europe — including Salzburg, Luzerne, Zurich, La Scala, Milan, Rome. Turin, Bologna, BBC and Philharmonic in London. He toured South America in the summer of 1950, visited Mexico. In 1951 Kubelík again won enthusiastic acclaim as guest conductor at the Holland Festival, Scheveningen, Besancon Festival, Salzburg, Zurich, Brussels and with the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. Kubelík later served as music director at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden in London (1955-1958). But he had powerful detractors in London as well, not the least of them being Sir Thomas Beecham, who publicly objected to the idea of a foreigner directing Covent Garden. After Beecham published a letter to this effect in The Times of London, Kubelík offered to resign, and although the company’s board persuaded him to stay, he did not renew his contract when it expired in 1958. In 1961, after having refused to conduct in Germany for more than 20 years, he accepted the directorship of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra of Munich, which proved to be his longest and most fruitful relationship. He held that post until 1980, and continued to perform and record with the orchestra until his retirement five years later. His last official concert took place in Munich with Bruckner’s 9th, June 7, 1985 due to heart disease and severe arthritis forced him to retire from conducting in 1985.

In 1971, Göran Gentele, the new general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, New York, asked Kubelík to accept the position of music director. Kubelík accepted partly because of his strong artistic relationship with Gentele. The death of Gentele in a road accident in 1972 undermined Kubelík’s reasons for working at the opera house. He had prior conducting commitments away from the Met in his first season there, which diverted his attention. He resigned from the Met in 1974, after only six months in post. Schuyler Chapin, general manager of the Metropolitan opera, said: “Kubelík had charm and idealism, no doubt about it. But I will make a prediction. Two people will resign this year—President Nixon and Rafael Kubelík.” Why Kubelík? “Because the man is simply inefficient.” And so Chapin was looking for a new music director. A job suddenly left vacant when Kubelík resigned on February 12, 1974. He resigned, according to the brief press release put out by the Metropolitan opera, because the financial crisis at the house left him with no means to carry out his projects. But clearly that statement was a face-saving device. Kubelík left because he was under heavy attack, inside and outside the company.

After 1985, Kubelík conducted only a few times. Having declared when he left Prague in 1948 that he would not return until the situation changed, he went back in 1990 to conduct ”Ma Vlast” at the opening of the first Prague Spring Festival after Vaclav Havel’s Velvet Revolution. Kubelík had conducted the work 45 years earlier to celebrate the liberation of Prague from Nazi occupation. Vaclav Havel wrote: “I admired Rafael Kubelík at the highest level, not only for all the glory he brought to Czech music, but also because he was an extraordinary character and a patriot”.

And on Oct. 18, 1991, it was certainly “All’s well that ends well” when Kubelík made his last appearance on the Orchestra Hall podium, conducting his Czech countryman Antonin Dvorak’s “Husitska” Overture to a rousing ovation as the final work on the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s gala centennial concert. Moments after the final chords had faded away, Kubelík was joined onstage by then-incoming CSO music director Daniel Barenboim and music director laureate Sir Georg Solti to share the cheers of the audience. It was the emotional high point of the yearlong celebration of the orchestra’s 100th birthday.

Kubelík was twice married, first to the violinist Ludmila Bertlova, whom he met when he conducted the Czech Philharmony with Miss Bertlova as soloist in a Mozart Concerto in 1936. They were married in 1942. Their son, Martin, was born in 1946. Then in 1963 to the Australian soprano Elsie Morison, a member of the Covent Garden during his regime there, who had sung for Glyndebourne at the Edinburgh Festival in 1953. They were a devoted couple. Rafael Kubelík died in Kastanienbaum near Lucerne on August 11, 1996.

Notes by Michael Waiblinger, © 2014

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Article number: MC 5003 ∙ Double CD
UPC barcode: 791154054215
Recording dates: 1959-1960
Release date: March 2015
Total timing: CD 1: 59:41 ∙ CD 2: 74:20

Producer and Audio Restoration: Lynn Ludwig
Booklet Notes: Michael Waiblinger
Design: Alessia Issara
Photographs: Boris Lipnitzki
With special thanks to Thierry Vagne
From the Original Masters ∙ © 2015 Meloclassic