> Antonin Dvorak - Symphony No. 9 "From the New World" [GPJ]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Antonín DVORÁK (1841-1904)
Overture Carnival, op.92
Symphony no.9 in E minor, op.95, "From the New World"
Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra/André Previn
Recorded Royce Hall, UCLA, Los Angeles, California, April 30th, 1990
TELARC CD-80238 [50:33]


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The coupling of Dvořák’s most popular symphony with his best-known short orchestral work sounds like a good idea, and there is much to praise and enjoy in this issue. Carnival receives a bright, lively performance, also admirably tidy in the tricky figuration Dvořák gives to many parts of the orchestra – e.g. horns, then violins around 3:09 (track 1). The interlude that follows, with its four-note ostinato started by the cor anglais, is played most beautifully, too. Indeed, the only real drawback is the balance at the very start of the overture, where the main theme is almost drowned by noisy percussion. The recording quality is generally very acceptable, but does suffer from a certain lack of depth and perspective that you often find in American recordings.

Previn begins the New World in a thoughtful, restrained way that is very effective. The quirks of recording balance are soon with us again though, in the alarmingly close and loud timpani strokes at 0:54 (track 2). The main Allegro that follows is lacking in thrust and momentum; the tempo sags here and there, so that the final impression is of a movement that never quite catches fire. There are some irritating mannerisms in Previn’s phrasing, too, that hold the music up, e.g. the unrhythmical drawing out of the notes at the ends of the strings’ phrases, track 2, 2:11.

The Largo is beautifully done, with a fine contribution from the Los Angeles cor anglais player, and here Previn preserves the forward pulse without ever hurrying the music. I do object to clumsy editing though; when the woodwind reprise the opening brass chords at 2:17 (track 3), the beginning of one of the chords has been ‘chopped’, presumably because the attack lacked unanimity. But I for one would rather have an untidy chord than the awful artificial sound we have here; why not go the whole hog and play the symphony on a synthesiser? There are examples of this nefarious practice elsewhere on the disc.

The Scherzo is as delicious as ever, and I loved Previn’s brisk, business-like tempo. Another balance problem surfaces at the beginning of the trio, (track 4, 3:12) where the accompanying strings are far too loud for the woodwind who present the melody. The Allegro con fuoco finale is convincing enough, with some powerful playing from the fine Los Angeles strings. But what on earth is Previn doing in the passage of triplets that follows on from the main theme, at 1:16? The music gallops off in the most bizarre way, and I think we hear the sound of an orchestra being dragged along by their corporate scruffs! Not pretty. The final chord of the symphony, never a comfortable one for the wind, is here top heavy and a little out of tune, though I’ve heard worse.

For me, the main disadvantage in this recording lies in the sound of the orchestra. The LAPO is a fine ensemble, but its chief (and remarkable) quality is its smoothness, and I found myself continually yearning for brass with more genuine edge and bite, woodwind with more reediness, a touch of the outdoor quality you must have in Dvořák’s music. This is a high quality performance in its way, despite the quirks mentioned above; but it can’t really compare with combinations like Kubelik and the Bavarian RSO, or, my perennial favourite, Kertész and the LSO.

A disappointing issue, then, from such a great musician as André Previn, despite much fine playing and the undoubtedly attractive coupling.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

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