DVOŘÁK Symphony No 9 'From the New World' (Nelsons)
This concert was recorded in May 2017, following the announcement that Andris Nelsons would succeed Riccardo Chailly as music director of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. Dvořák’s New World Symphony is the programme’s centrepiece, as it was in a December 2010 concert Nelsons gave with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, released on CD by BR-Klassik (7/13) and on DVD by Unitel/C Major (10/13). That Munich performance has a special charm, particularly on video. Nelsons beams at the Bavarian players, smiling even when the music is dead serious. Any questions raised about the liberties he takes with tempo and phrasing are swept away by his obvious and sincere joy in music-making.
This Leipzig concert is a different story. Curiously, Nelsons conducts from the score (he led from memory in Munich), and scowls at least as much as he smiles. Perhaps this wouldn’t matter as much if this new interpretation felt as fresh, but the seemingly spontaneous emotional underlining of detail in his BRSO account sounds exaggerated here, as if he felt it necessary to also italicise and mark in bold. The result is dizzyingly episodic; and while some of the episodes are riveting in their own right – the Mahlerian march in the middle of the slow movement, for instance, with the winds singing in plaintive desolation over pizzicato basses – it just doesn’t hold together.
Whatever misgivings I have about Nelsons’s interpretative choices, the commitment of the Leipzig players is never in doubt. The famous cor anglais solo in the Largo is phrased with tender simplicity, but elsewhere Nelsons allows the woodwinds to play with tremendous freedom and they clearly relish the opportunity. The strings retain their trademark silkiness in piano passages yet dig in ferociously at fortissimo, occasionally taking on an uncharacteristically febrile tone.
The programme opens with a forthright reading of the Othello overture and a series of Czech songs and arias featuring soprano Kristīne Opolais, whose reedy tone is well suited to this repertoire. She’s a fine musician, too – note how she makes dramatic use of the uneven phrase-lengths in the aria from Dalibor.
And if one trusts in the Shakespearean saw that all’s well that ends well, the Slavonic Dance played as an encore concludes the concert on a high, quiet note of bittersweet melancholy.