Thanks to ArkivMusic,
these celebrated Mercury recordings have been made available
once more. Although now more than forty years old, I can think
of few more recent recordings which come close to matching the
vibrancy and freshness captured by Dorati and the LSO. Of these,
Kubelik (DG 457902-2), Jansons (EMI CDC7 54663-2) and Belohlavek
(Chandos CHAN9391) offer the most compelling accounts. However,
there is something unique in Dorati's reading that perfectly
encapsulates the folk influence and lyrical charm that runs
throughout Dvořák's work (particularly in No. 8).
For many aficionados,
No. 7 is the greatest of all Dvořák's symphonies. It certainly
contains some of his most emotionally expressive writing. However,
my own preference is for Dvořák's more nationalist, folk-music
influenced work, which is most clearly felt in No. 8. Nevertheless,
there are some exquisite passages. The relatively long first
movement is imbued with a sense of turbulence and tragedy, but
Dorati carries it with a momentum that continuously holds the
listener's attention. The Brahmsian Poco adagio is also
beautifully paced, with some wonderfully clear clarinet and
flute lines. Other conductors sometimes labour over this movement
- for example, compare Harnoncourt's 1998 recording [Teldec
3984-21278-2] which clocks in at 9'37'' - but Dorati's relatively
short timing (8'19'') never feels too brisk or rushed. Instead,
the listener is pulled along by the warm and nostalgic performance.
returns to quintessential Dvořák territory: elements of
polka and furiant combining to produce a glorious, energetic
and sparkling texture. Only in the trio section is there a
certain faltering in the otherwise confident performance. The
final movement is given a suitably muscular reading, with superb
woodwind and brass sections.
If anything, No.
8 is even more impressive, full of Slavonic character and energy.
A personal favourite, the first movement begins with an achingly
beautiful melody. Open, expansive playing conjures a colourful
palette of sunshine and storm, leading to the pastoral second
The famous third
movement (allegro grazioso) is perhaps the highlight
of the entire disc, marked by buoyant, warm and receptive playing
throughout. An absolute joy. The fanfares and dramatic flourishes
that characterise the immensely exciting and varied final movement
are also delightful. I can only imagine how happy the composer
would be to hear such a sympathetic and involving rendering
of some of his most magnificent creations.