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Brahms Dvorak 1741
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Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Symphony No 1 in C minor, Op 68 (1876)
Hungarian Dances Nos 1, 3, 10 (orch. Brahms, 1874) and 17-21 (orch. Dvořk, 1881)
Antonín Dvořk (1841-1904)
Symphony No 6 in D major, Op 60 (1880)
Bamberger Symphoniker/Jakub Hrůša
rec. 2020/21, Joseph-Keilberth-Saal, Konzerthalle Bamberg, Germany
Reviewed in surround sound
TUDOR 1741 SACD [2 discs: 110]

In the turmoil of Europe after 1945, expelled musicians from the German Philharmonic Orchestra Prague joined with colleagues in Bamberg and formed the Bamberger Symphoniker, which thus has roots in both the Czech and German repertoire. Czech conductor Jakub Hrůša has been Bamberg’s Chief Conductor since 2016, reinforcing that link. This pair of SACDs completes their cycle pairing the four symphonies of Brahms with the last four of Dvořk.

Brahms’ First Symphony receives a convincing performance, well played throughout, and solid in structure - Hrůša observes the first movement exposition repeat, thus extending its timing to over 16 minutes, the better to match the weight of the 17-minute finale. But it is also a compelling narrative through all four movements, and with some fire in its belly when needed. The Bamberg orchestral players make some telling contributions, not least the sweet, vibrato-rich solo violin in the second movement and the mellifluous clarinets in the third movement. The finale, once past a particularly noble horn solo at figure B, has all the driving rhetoric towards an exciting culmination that this music drama – and it is hardly less than that – requires.

Dvořk’s Symphony No 6 used to be reckoned, with No 7, as the best of his cycle of nine – this was in a time which downplayed the qualities of numbers 8 and 9 as more melodious and Bohemian, while 6 and 7 were more properly symphonic (i.e. “German”, itself code for Brahmsian). Jakub Hrůša’s account is certainly symphonic in that sense, while still sounding quite Bohemian as well, especially in its inner movements. In the first movement Hrůša ignores the exposition repeat, whether because at nearly 14 minutes it is already much longer than the 11-minute finale, or because the composer, despite its presence in the printed score and a lovely lead back, later insisted it should not be observed.

In this account it does not outstay its welcome at all, the argument superbly articulated by fine playing and sensitive pacing. The touchingly lyrical Adagio is a fine showcase for the qualities of the Bamberg woodwinds, especially its oboes. The Scherzo is a furiant from the world of the composer’s Slavonic Dances, and its cross-rhythms and unstoppable impetus are splendidly conveyed. In the finale the progress is unerring, right up towards the presto coda, where the strings display great dexterity as Hrůša brings the piece home with some grandeur.

The extras are from the two sets of Brahms’ Hungarian Dances. Numbers 1, 3, and 10 are in the orchestrations by Brahms, and numbers 17-21 orchestrated by Dvořk. These are as idiomatic and as well played as the symphonies, and there are some interesting reflections upon them, and on much else, in a booklet interview with Jakub Hrůša (in English and German, though oddly enough omitted in the French section).

The sound, generally very good, is not quite out of the top drawer, which I suspect is not an engineering issue, but rather a reverberant venue producing some congestion in loud passages. (Though I have not noticed this in other Tudor issues made in the same hall). Here the orchestra is set back a little in the audio picture (no bad thing) which allows some hall ambience to be heard. It is fine and detailed most of the time, but becomes just a touch coarse when the brass and timpani add their weight to ff passages. It did not interfere that much with my pleasure in the fine performances, and the issue is less noticeable on the stereo CD layer. The fastidious audiophile might wish to take note, but it should not prevent anyone to whom this unique coupling appeals from considering these discs.

Roy Westbrook

Published: November 15, 2022

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