Firstly, the 'New World'. I once heard Mácal
conduct this piece with the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester's Free
Trade Hall. He breathed new life into this most unpredictable of British
orchestras, who responded to his evident care and love for Dvořák
with elan. It would appear that the LPO were just as enthusiastic in
this 1982 recording, and despite the very obvious attractions of Mácal's
'Symphonic Variations', it is the 'New World' that receives a white-hot
performance and can comfortably sit with the very best.
Mácal and his orchestra evidently put much preparation
into this recording: the amount of audible detail is astonishing, further
elucidation coming from the clear yet warm recording (via the classic
team of producer Martin Compton and engineer 'Mr Bear').
The first movement comes complete with exposition repeat
so that the symphony appears in proportion. An undercurrent of dramatic
tension underpins the entire movement, successfully contextualizing
the lyrical passages. Similarly, the famous second movement, with its
eloquent cor anglais solo, is expressive without being over-indulgent.
The entry of the brass with their quiet closing chords is a moment of
The attack and spirit of the third movement acts as
a reminder of how good the LPO can be. The gritty recording supports
the energy of the Scherzo, and the Trio features some characterful wind
playing, but it is the finale that really impresses. It acts as a true
climax to the work: the LPO plays determinedly (the horn solo towards
the end is particularly worthy of note). This is a memorable reading.
The earlier 'Symphonic
Variations' (dating from 1877 and premiered in that year) does not quite
match the Symphony in quality, but is nevertheless a fine account. The
theme (Dvořák's own, from a part-song for male voice chorus)
is presented as tranquil but nevertheless pregnant with possibilities.
The LPO capture the shifting emotions of this work well (including a
jubilant Scherzo and an affecting Valse), closing with a Finale full
of energy and brio. Perhaps Mackerras on EMI (CDEMX2216, coupled with
the Eighth Symphony) pips this to the post as a recommendation, but
as a coupling this disc remains a triumph.