Dvorák Symphonies Nos 8 and 9

A refined and individual Seventh plus the return of a classic Eighth and Ninth

Author: 
Rob Cowan
Dvorák Symphonies Nos 8 and 9Dvorák Symphonies Nos 8 and 9

Dvorák Symphonies Nos 8 and 9

  • Symphony No. 9, 'From the New World'
  • Symphony No. 8
  • Symphony No. 7
  • American Suite

Iván Fischer is truly “one on his own”, a fund of fascinating interpretative ideas which, whether or not you always agree with them, invariably make musical sense. On this new version of Dvorák’s Seventh Symphony, for example, the way he “lifts” the transition into the second subject, with string lines that positively bulge nectar. The second subject itself is light and easy-going (beautiful horn playing) whereas the development section ebbs and flows despite the uneasy climate, much as it should. Just follow its course from say 4'22" through 6'47", then for half a minute or so beyond 7'01", and you soon realise that here we have players who, under inspired and imaginative direction, know how to shape phrases and how to control and project dynamics. Sir Charles Mackerras on his recent “live” Philharmonia recording (Signum, 4/10) captures just as much of this first movement’s elemental storm and stress – the ever-volatile Kubelík in his DG Berlin recording is even more riveting – but Fischer’s consistent coaxing provides a more temperate alternative. Similarly, the Poco adagio enjoys some superb playing (gorgeous horns again at around 2'40") and note the unexpected Mahlerian string portamento at the movement’s close. The Scherzo’s high-point is an expressive but seamless transition into the Trio (always a tricky moment) and an energetic rocket-ride back again. The finale is very well judged, excitingly played too, and it was a good idea to follow the ultimately exultant Seventh Symphony with a flowing, genial account of the still-too-rarely-played American Suite, a dance sequence that’s an ideal bedfellow, repertoire-wise, for the Slavonic Dances and Legends. Competition here isn’t too strong and although I retain a fondness for Karel Sejna’s broader, grittier Czech Philharmonic account (Supraphon) – I love the gutsy cut and thrust of the vintage Czech strings in the finale – many will prefer Fischer’s refinement and polish.

I was happy to see the return of Fischer’s highly recommended coupling of Dvorák’s Eighth and Ninth Symphonies, recorded a decade ago at the Italian Institute in Budapest whereas the 2009 Seventh was set down at the Palace of Arts, Budapest, a marginally airier acoustic but with less potential for “bite”, especially where the strings are concerned. Not much in it, nor in the style of performance although Fischer’s Eighth (his second version as it happens) is at times so strong on portamento that you could as well be listening to an old Talich recording. “Buoyant, lyrical and localised in spirit” is how I put it at the time, adding that the New World – a very different sort of performance – was notable for its intensity, its energy and, as ever with Fischer, its keen attention to detail. “There isn’t a more enjoyable digital New World on the current market,” is what I said back in 2001 and I see (or hear) no reason to change my mind now. Both discs may be considered mandatory listening for anyone interested in Dvorák and the best of his modern interpreters.

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