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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony no.7 in D minor, op.70 [39:13]
Romance in F minor for violin and orchestra, op.11 [11:40]
Carnival Overture, op.92* [9:51]
Thomas Zehetmair (violin)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Eliahu Inbal
London Philharmonic Orchestra*/James Conlon*
Recorded at Brent Town Hall, London, October 1983 (overture), Snape Malting Concert Hall, December 1989 (Romance), St. Austin’s, London, October 1990 (symphony)
WARNER APEX 2564 61427-2 [60:47]

Donald Francis Tovey thought it was the greatest symphony since Beethoven; OK, he was writing in the first half of the 20th century, but there haven’t been that many symphonies to challenge that claim in the intervening years. How strange, then, that Dvořák’s 7th Symphony has attracted more expressive accretions than almost any other work you can name – I mean those little shifts of tempo or dynamic that conductors almost unconsciously endorse, and which orchestral musicians reproduce dutifully unless specifically asked to do otherwise.

I mention that because this recording is a particularly frustrating case in point. Frustrating because Eliahu Inbal has at his disposal a great orchestra – the Philharmonia at the top of its form – and an excellent recording. Yet his interpretation continually irritates with its fidgety changes of tempo and dynamic. For example, why the sudden headlong charge at the beginning of the first movement’s coda? The composer asks for, carefully and quite specifically, poco a poco acceleranda (accelerating little by little) at the very height of the climax, which, if observed, is thrilling and unmistakably right.

Compare the brisk speed that Inbal sets at the beginning of the finale – bracing and business-like – with the beginning of the development (track 4 around 3:40). This is no mere holding back, but a fundamental shift in the underlying tempo of the movement. There are many, too many, examples of this sort of musical indiscipline, added to which Inbal ‘touches up’ the orchestration in the coda of the finale at the molto maestoso by adding the horns to the violins and woodwind. This is often done, but to my knowledge entirely without the composer’s knowledge or sanction. Dvořák, simple soul that he may have been, wasn’t a bad orchestrator, so may I please make a suggestion to conductors who might be minded to incorporate this particular piece of unnecessarily vulgar excess - don’t. Please.

Zehetmair’s reading of the lovely Romance for violin and orchestra is a fine one, poised and expressive, and the disc is completed by an appropriately rumbustious, if less than subtle, performance of the Carnival Overture.

Gwyn Parry-Jones


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