Symphonies - No. 6 in D, No.8 in
DG 469 046-2 [76'25",
not 76'52" as stated on
While I'm delighted that Dvorak's magnificent Sixth Symphony has a high-profile
release, I'm sorry not to be able to welcome this CD more enthusiastically.
I recall that Chung's previous Dvorak (Symphonies 3 & 7/VPO - DG 449
207-2) left me somewhat cold. This latest release finds me admiring but not
involved - and I love this music.
Let's go back a step. In the planning stage, I imagine that someone would
have questioned if both 6 and 8 - a unique coupling - could be fitted on
to one CD. The Sixth, at an average of 42 minutes (without the controversial
first-movement repeat) and, say, 37 for No.8 runs CD playing times close.
Chung doesn't take the repeat that Dvorak crossed through, but that hasn't
stop Kertesz or Rowicki (or, indeed, Sir Charles Groves on his fine LP recording
- ASD 3169 - which EMI should consider for CD transfer) from observing it.
With these guys we're running now to 50 minutes and a single CD of 6 &
8 goes out of the window.
My unequivocal first choice for No.6 is Kubelik whose Berlin Philharmonic
recording has a glow, lilt and expressiveness all its own. Dvorak's individuality
shines through. Kubelik's 45-minute No.6 (no repeat) and his quite nippy
8 total 81 minutes (CDs of this length are quite possible today). But that's
known material - Chung was starting from scratch. There is something
matter-of-fact about Chung's conducting, the music regimented (his descent
into the first movement's development is literal and unimaginative: Groves
is wonderful here). The only real claim of Chung's No.6 is his very fast
speed for the Scherzo, a Furiant. The VPO toss this off with alacrity and
it's exciting (not a word I use often: I prefer to be thrilled) to hear a
world-class orchestra retaining its composure while articulating at speed.
However, repeated listening now suggests Chung is superficial, the novelty
of his approach has diminished (and I would have liked more repose in the
Kubelik's great recording is only available as part of a box (and not coupled
with No.8). But it's one of DG's Collectors Editions that are very reasonably
priced. Kubelik is somewhat circumspect with the early works, but his set
has much to recommend it (DG 463 158-2, 6CDs). There's also excellent LSO
cycles with Kertesz (Decca) and Rowicki (Philips). As I've mentioned, both
conductors observe the 6th's repeat and these cycles are available cheaply.
I would give the nod to Rowicki. Otmar Suitner's beguiling Berlin Staatskapelle
recordings (Berlin Classics) contain marvellous things. His Sixth is excellent,
full of the idiomatic ingredients that give Dvorak his personality; and his
orchestra has a delightfully rustic-sounding woodwind section. I wouldn't
want to be without either Karel Sejna or Karel Ancerl in their Czech Philharmonic
versions (1951, 1966 respectively - both Supraphon) who speak Dvorak's language
like the natives they are. None of these conductors attempt Chung's speed
for the Furiant: in the long term their discretion will be welcome.
Chung is afforded recording quality which compromises Dvorak's scoring. In
lightly scored passages details reach the ear gratefully but in tuttis the
orchestral perspective recedes (in reality excessive reverberation swallows
Chung's Eighth passes me by. I'm not convinced by his mannered way with the
cello tune in the first movement (from 2'17") and his overblown account of
the development borders on the crude. Turn to Harnoncourt (Teldec 3984-24487-2)
for something more explicitly detailed (helped by a recording that doesn't
blunt edges): Harnoncourt offers bar-by-bar aural revelations and the music
has the warm inner glow and spontaneous expression that Chung has wrung out.
There's no doubt the VPO play superbly and that the recording presents a
beautiful and powerful sound. Other conductors though get closer to Dvorak's
spirit, their accounts are more involving and satisfying, aided by recording
quality that allows Dvorak's instrumental ingredients to register cleanly.