DVOŘÁK Symphony No 6. American Suite
The opening bars of the symphony signal something quite out of the ordinary, the perfect balance of horns and violas, the clarity of the woodwinds (oboes and clarinets especially), the sweeping curve of the first soaring string phrase, the precise staccatos thereafter and the warmth of the initial climax. Lightness, transparency, geniality, warmth and a keen sense of symphonic inexorability – these and other admirable qualities keep the first movement of Gaffigan’s Dvořák Sixth consistently engaging.
His pacing is near ideal (relaxed yet animated), his seamless handling of the movement’s second set artfully judged; and, like the best of his modern rivals, he opts for the long exposition repeat with its significant bridge back to the beginning. The development’s quietly questioning first bars prepare us for the taut central arguments, while the coda blazes before quietly broadening and making a decisive exit for the closing bars. The Adagio, which is played with great fluency, wears the intimate demeanour of chamber music, highlights being the haunting alternation of strings and winds at 3'04" (the violins deathly quiet) and the sudden orchestral interjection after the horn passage at 5'17". The ‘furiant’ third movement stamps lustily, the sunny transition into the Trio relaxed but not so much as to spoil the overall mood. Gaffigan eases us gently into the finale, making maximum play among contrapuntal voices before speeding for what will prove a joyfully affirmative denouement.
If the symphony is set at midday, or most of it is, the adorable American Suite languishes at dusk, its dance episodes more American-Czech in style than even the New World Symphony. Gaffigan and his Lucerne players offer a performance that combines exuberance with the utmost delicacy (try 1'22" into the second movement). This is a wonderful CD, my first encounter with Gaffigan and his players. I can’t wait to hear more.