Even if Jiří Bělohlávek's time with the BBC Symphony Orchestra will be remembered with modified rapture, there can be no doubt of his fervour for the Czech repertoire. Patriotic totems and operatic rarities have peppered the orchestra's Barbican seasons and, with BBC Radio 3 on demand for new content, many of those concerts have since appeared on disc. Now, just as Bělohlávek departs, Harmonia Mundi has released a winning new recording of The Bartered Bride (taken from concert performances in May 2011).
The Bartered Bride is, on the surface, a zinging piece of nationalistic fun and Bělohlávek invests the score with real attack and bounce. Amassing an entirely Czech cast, both the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Singers nevertheless rise to the idiomatic challenges. Offering lustre and bloom to Mařenka and Jenik tale or real zip when required to be the village dance band, the BBCSO and Bělohlávek carve a dynamic reading.
This recording may have strong competition from the old Supraphon set (with the radiant Gabriela Beňačková), yet similarly indigenous casting offers a welcome note of authenticity. The comic roles shine in particular. Ales Voráček balances poignancy and farce as Vasek, while Jozef Benci's Kecal is the quintessence of local government pomposity.
For his lovers, Bělohlávek has plumped for more strident voices. Tomás Juhás is winningly heroic as Jenik, with thrilling clarity at the top. Dana Buresová is similarly bright in the upper reaches as Mařenka, yet there's an oddly persistent quality to the voice in more conversational passages. She phrases beautifully, but cannot quite erase memories of Beňačková or Susan Gritton's touching turn on Mackerras's 'Opera in English' release. So, while you may miss a little bit of that emotional punch, this remains a very fresh and captivating performance. It only serves to remind us that, without Mackerras and Bělohlávek, Czech music now lacks a true advocate on these shores.