DVOŘÁK Symphony No 9
The highlight of this enjoyable, beautifully filmed concert is the Largo from Dvo∑ák’s New World Symphony, one of the gentlest and most tenderly phrased accounts I’ve ever heard, on or off disc. The opening moments are hushed and inward, the solo strings especially poignant and the solo cor anglais utterly superb. Interesting that the closing moments include a couple of ironed-out appoggiaturas and that in the Scherzo’s Trio the second half of the melody’s first section is played legato to contrast with the spikier phrasing of the first. In the opening movement (with repeat), Andris Nelsons really whips up the excitement, subtly tweaking dynamics so as to illuminate this or that instrumental line. The outer sections of the Scherzo stamp like a wild Slavonic dance and the finale is kept tense and propulsive until the end, which is of truly epic proportions. Camerawork is lively and informative, but then Nelsons himself is a real boon, perhaps the most visually likeable conductor since Carlos Kleiber, his gestures clear, his facial expressions warmly appreciative of everything in the music that moves him.
For Ives’s The Unanswered Question, the wind ensemble plays from the stage while the modest string band is kept backstage. It’s another beautifully judged performance, with the winds slowly pressing for extra intensity as the piece progresses. John Adams’s Reichian Slonimsky’s Earbox drives and fidgets at a healthy pace, with Nelsons cueing each yard of the journey without a single disruptive pothole. It’s a fun piece, all 14 minutes of it, and a clever prelude to Stravinsky’s Song of the Nightingale, where the opening pages act as a sort of prophecy in retrospect. All this musical activity fills the handsome Munich Herkulessaal with the greatest ease. The recorded sound has impressive amplitude and, given Nelsons’s charismatic rostrum manner, I can well imagine this DVD earning itself many happy takers. I certainly count myself as one.