Amazon has carelessly neglected to indicate that this two-CD set is part of the Great Condcutors of the Century series. Vaclav Talich began recording in the 30s, and despite being born in 1883, thirteen years before the death of Brahms, he survived to make modern recordings. Everything in this set is in mono from 1951-54, made with Czech orchestra (all but one item is with Talich's own Czech Philharmonic).
By general agreement Talich is the gold standard for all the classic Czech composers, chiefly Dvorak, Smetana, Suk, and to a lesser degree Janacek (since he didn't record the operas, only orchestral suites from them--the suite from Janacek's The Cunning Little Vixen is represented here). Talich's secret was a warm, humane conducting style which coaxed glowing tone from his musicians, along with alert, lively rhythms. But then, how can one really describe how a master does it?
Since all the Czech selections here are great, there's no need to analyze them--the reviewer below has at least named each item, unlike Amazon. I was particularly captivated by Talich's performance of a neglected Dvorak tone poem, The Water Goblin. Suk's Serenade fro Strings is in the same relaxed, balmy genre as Dvorak's better-known serenade.
The two deviations form Czech fare are a single movement, meltingly done, from Tchaikovsky's "Mozariana" Suite #4 and a Mozart Sym. #33. The Mozart is a live performance in fairly murky radio sound; it reveals Talich to be a brisk, streamlined conductor of Mozart but with plenty of charm and ease in the phrasing. The big work on CD 2, the Dvorak "New World," is caught in somewhat wobbly sound from 1954 and although excellent (it's quite lyrical and full of tangy Czech woodwind playing) could have been replaced. This piece has been recorded too often to claim that Talich is incomparable in it.
All in all, here is one of those rare installments in this series where everything comes together: the conductor is genuinely great, the material is fairly unknown, the performances rise to the highest standard. Five stars, definitely.