Imagine being outdoors on a day similar to the ones that we’ve been enjoying recently, warm and brilliantly sunlit. You look towards the brow of a nearby hill and suddenly, out of nowhere, a line of laughing kids in colourful dress appears running towards you. As if that isn’t enough, there’s a soundtrack, a gentle dance tune with curled edges that starts quietly and builds on a crescendo. The middle section of this magical 9th Legend by Dvorák reflects the odd passing cloud but, no matter, the dancing soon returns. Then placed fourth in this glorious series of miniatures, near relations of the Slavonic Dances as you might call them, is a movement marked molto maestoso. The opening is a dead ringer for ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ but rather than ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ here we have ‘Pomp and Poetry’. The point is tellingly made once the ‘Pomp’ theme has passed, and the music assumes a wider range of colours. Then there’s Legend No. 7, a whimsical intermezzo, gently yet precisely pointed on a henceforth benchmark Linn recording of the Legends by the WDR Symphony Orchestra under Cristian Macelaru (Linn CKD 710, c£14).
This is a fabulous disc, a listening experience that has very few rivals in my experience, one of them hearing Sergiu Celibidache conducting the LSO in Prokofiev at London’s South Bank where, at the same venue, I also heard Rafael Kubelík conduct the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in Mahler’s First and Mozart’s Forty-first. I mention these performers because, like them, Macelaru knows how to trace the rise and fall of a phrase (how many conductors nowadays can do that?), delve beneath the music’s top line (middle voices are plentiful), apply subtle rubato and lay on the drama where needed. Macelaru is also a master of appropriate pacing and how to gauge musical rests. Time and again. while listening, I’d find myself muttering under my breath, ‘yes, yes, yes! This is so right!’ When I heard ‘Celi’ I remember thinking to myself, ‘I’m caught in a time warp. I’m suddenly transported back 30-40 years when this sort of playing and interpretation were the norm’. They weren’t when I was sitting transfixed at the RFH and they’re not now. Also included on this exceptionally well-engineered disc is Dvorák’s rustic Czech Suite. Try the sombre opening movement or the lilting dance that sweeps in after it. I’m not saying that there aren’t other fine versions of this music around (José Serebrier and Karel Sejna for example) but Cristian Macelaru is a ‘cut above’ and demands to be heard. Don’t hesitate. This is one for the Awards shortlists.