Antonin DVORÁK (1841-1904)
Symphonies - No. 1 in C minor, B9, 'The Bells of Zlonice'; No. 2 in
B flat, B12; No. 3 in E flat, B34.
London Symphony Orchestra/István Kertész.
Double Decca 466 739-2 [ADD]
This has to be one of the true bargains of the century so far. Since they
came out on Decca SXL's in 1967 (SXL6288-90), these performances have been
persuading the record buying public that the early symphonies of Dvorák
are worthy of serious consideration. In this present incarnation on two CDs,
nearly two and a half hours of sustained advocacy of the highest order is
on offer for a ludicrously small outlay.
Throughout, the recorded sound and in particular the balance are exemplary
(all three were produced by Ray Minshull, joined by John Mordler in the Third,
and Kenneth Wilkinson was the engineer).
The First Symphony (once thought lost) takes its subtitle from the tolling
of the bells in the town where Dvorák decided to pursue a career in
music, and a musical motif derived from this recurs throughout the symphony.
The LSO seem to truly believe in the music, and the whole performance breathes
freshness from first note to last. As in all the performances in this set,
tempi are perfectly judged and solo contributions are a delight (for example,
try the beautifully phrased oboe solo just before 5 minutes into the slow
One of my few criticisms would be that the finale of the Second Symphony
sags, but there are so many memorable moments elsewhere that this is a minor
glitch. The attention to detail is nothing short of miraculous (the string
articulation is a dream) and, not for the first time in this set, there is
joy to be found by the bucket load - the ecstatic whooping of the horns in
the first movement is but one case in point.
The Third Symphony shows the influence of Wagner (most notably the Wagner
of Lohengrin in the processional music of the slow movement) and Liszt,
a necessary part of Dvorák finding his own mature compositional voice.
But (and it's a big but) this symphony, too, has stature in its own right
and Kertész realises this fully. He has the knack of giving inevitable
direction to whole passages that in other hands would appear superfluous.
This set is not merely recommended. It is indispensable. Even though it dates
form the late sixties, the sound still gives many recordings of today a run
for their money. I need to borrow extra stars for my rating - I haven't got