I first took notice of the symphonies of Fibich when I saw a 2-disc set of his three symphonies performed by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, with conductor Neeme Jarvi. The bits of the first symphony which I sampled didn’t grab my attention, so I moved on. Now, the Naxos label is releasing a set of the complete orchestral works of Zdeněk Fibich, a Czech composer and near contemporary of Dvořák and Smetana. The works are performed by the Czech National Symphony Orchestra, and young conductor Marek Štilec has been doing quite a bit of research on Fibich’s scores.
Zdeněk Fibich (1850-1900) has been overshadowed by his more well-known composer countrymen, somewhat unfairly. While I’m still not convinced that these are some of the greatest Czech symphonic works I’ve ever heard, I do hear similarities to Dvořák’s earlier symphonic works. The four-movement Symphony No. 2 is unobtrusive but entertaining, from its nationalistic horns at the beginning of the first movement (I also sensed a bit of a nod to Wagner), to its energetic conclusion. At about 40 minutes, it is the highlighted work on this second disc of Naxos’ collection. The two filler works, At Twilight (a symphonic poem for orchestra) and Selanka (an idyll for clarinet and orchestra) are light and relaxing.