Dvorák Tone Poems
Much to admire, as one would expect from such highly accomplished protagonists. The Berliners play with exquisite poise and sensitivity, and Rattle’s eagle-eyed, superbly co-ordinated interpretations are clearly the product of deep thought and meticulous preparation. So why do I come away from my listening oddly unsatisfied? Well, for starters the slightly diffuse engineering doesn’t help (tuttis take on an unappealing thickness and bloom generally is in short supply), but what concerns me more is a certain want of tumbling spontaneity (all the more surprising, given the live provenance) combined with a knowing veneer of sophistication that tells me more about these artists’ consummate skills than the music they’re performing.
Turn to Harnoncourt’s distinguished Teldec set with the Concertgebouw and you’ll encounter a no less scrupulous orchestral response allied to an extra recreative fantasy and artless, innocent wonder that really do have you gasping anew at Dvorák’s vernally fresh inspiration. Like Kubelík before him, Harnoncourt locates a rhythmic acuity, narrative flair, symphonic thrust and feeling for nature that really do make these scores spring to inspirational life. Both are Dvorákians of the highest perception, and my unswerving allegiance to them is not challenged by this polished newcomer.
Now gathered together on a single disc, Zdenek Chalabala’s irresistibly tangy and atmospheric Czech PO accounts from 1961 are also well worth seeking out. Yes, the sound is dated, and there are some jarring cuts in The Golden Spinning-Wheel, but both The Water Goblin and The Wild Dove come off marvelously, evincing a guileless joy and ruddy complexion that are not on the agenda in Berlin. The choice is yours…