The Moldau is one of a suite of six pieces entitled Ma Vlast, or My Homeland. It follows the course of the Moldau River from its origins to the sea. Musicologist Paul Stefan says Smetana’s music “sings to us today of the Bohemia of old; its woods and cultivated plains, its villages, its romantic hills and old legends, its great past and even its future.”
Bartók wrote his First Piano Concerto in 1926 as a vehicle for his own performances. With his personal harmonic style already well established, Bartók explored the piano’s possibilities as a percussive instrument. It’s a dynamic work that blends Bartók’s awareness of folk music with a rich Impressionist palette of orchestral sounds.
Dvořák was no slouch at writing memorable tunes, and the heartfelt cello melody that opens the Eighth Symphony is one of his best. This is a movement of contrasts, with a second theme that is both a march and a dance, and brimming with life. Even more melodic treasures follow, with pastoral interludes filled with woodwind birdsong. The slow movement begins with the strings again, followed by delicate replies from the woodwinds. Although this movement is often described as a pastoral idyll, full of the sounds of the Bohemian countryside, it is just as easy to imagine this movement as an intimate, leisurely conversation between people who have long known each others’ moods and secrets. The Scherzo is one of Dvořák’s most graceful dance movements, spiked with typical Czech cross-rhythms. It finishes with a burst of rowdy energy before a trumpet fanfare launches the Finale.