Dvorak Symphony No 6
The first significant plus-point on this warmly played new account of Dvorák’s Sixth Symphony is that Marin Alsop observes the long first-movement exposition repeat, which not only promotes the movement’s overall timing from a sizeable 13-minute average to a generous 16'12" but additionally allows us access to a beautiful bridge passage (into the repeat) that would otherwise have remained mute on the page of the score. Alsop’s approach to this sunniest of symphonic first movements is perky, well paced and appreciative of the music’s many shifting perspectives. In the development section – surely the most intimate in Dvorák’s entire symphonic output – the excellent Baltimore players bring their own quietly distinctive personalities to the various dialoguing lines (the woodwinds are outstanding), and there’s plenty of energy in both the Scherzo and the finale, the latter showing Alsop’s now familiar skill at balancing tempi and dynamics so that the musical arguments make perfect sense.
Rivals? There are some good ones around, with two conducted by Rafael Kubelík (the Bavarian Radio Symphony broadcast on Orfeo is the one to go for, A/01) and, with the Czech Philharmonic, Sir Charles Mackerras (Supraphon, 10/04), fresh as always but not as thoughtful as Chandos’s beautifully recorded Jiri B∆lohlávek version (11/93), nor as delicately pointed as the much earlier An∂erl account (Supraphon, 11/03), while Karel Sejna’s early 1950s (6/54R) version is still something of a post-war benchmark. Jac van Steen and the Dortmund Philharmonic (MDG) provide nicely aerated textures and if you want burning lyricism and a glimpse of the epic dimension, then Václav Talich is definitely your man (with a pre-war Czech Phil on Naxos Historical).
But for those without a specific interpretative agenda, Alsop’s warmly blended Naxos recording will do very nicely, and her fill ups – the gorgeous Nocturne (taken from an earlier string quartet) and the ever-vivacious Scherzo capriccioso – could hardly prove more appropriate as couplings. Both extend the verdant mood set by the Symphony, and both are given lively, well-judged performances. I’d say that this is the finest issue so far in Alsop’s Dvorák series. Whatever else she does or doesn’t choose to give us, if she hasn’t already done so I hope she will have a gander at the Fifth Symphony, which I’m sure would go down a treat. Maybe follow Supraphon’s example (for Sejna) and couple it with the equally unfamiliar but equally delightful Slavonic Rhapsodies.