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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Symphonies: No. 7 in D minor, Op. 70 (1885) [38:48]; No. 8 in G, Op. 88 (1888) [36:18]
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Václav Talich
rec. Abbey Road Studio No. 1, 23 November 1938 (No. 7); 23, 28 November 1935 (No. 8) ADD.
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.111045 [73:06] 

 


These are simply marvellous accounts of two of Dvořák's most popular symphonies. Mark Obert-Thorn is both Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer and has done a simply wonderful job of  transferring the HMV DBs. Thinness of string sound is kept to a minimum. 

I heard a performance of the Seventh here in London with the LPO and Marin Alsop which bordered on the lacklustre. Nothing of the sort could be levelled at Talich and his forces. The pacing of the first movement is excellently judged, bringing with it just the right amount of drama. Interestingly shades of Elgar make themselves known; and yet when it comes to the second movement it is straight, and unmistakably, to the Bohemian forests. Listen out for the astonishingly lonely oboe solo around 8:19. There is a real Czech energy to the Scherzo before the finale squeezes itself onto the scene. Whereas in Alsop's hands this seemed a movement full of longueurs, with Talich the tension never flags for a second, and the coda positively blazes. 

The Eighth's opening glows in a way few others do, no matter what the recording date. The glow seems both internal and external in a movement that oozes easy melody. Woodwind sing of the Czech countryside, and yet Talich still manages to conjure up near-Wagnerian drama from his heavy brass. 

Indeed, this is a reading of No. 8 that reaches to the extremes. From the drama of the Allegro con brio, Talich brings forth hushed pianissimi in the Adagio that are nothing short of miraculous. The third movement is perhaps a touch slower than usual, yet Talich makes its easy-going nature feel just right. The call-to-arms that heralds the finale ushers in a drama of almost operatic proportions. starting from a cello tune moulded with what can only be described as paternal care by Talich. Only one quibble – the famous horn trills, surely Mahlerian in nature, are all but inaudible. But surely this is cancelled out by the judicious use of string portamento, a lost tradition nowadays that one finds here in its most natural and unaffected form. It is true that some might find this Eighth a little 'pushed', a little relentless but personally I find it part of Talich's search for musical truth to highlight the grit at the heart of this sunniest of  Dvořák's symphonies. 

The learned and erudite booklet notes are by Tully Potter. It is difficult to find fault with an issue as consistent as this one, so it is just left for me to give my unqualified recommendation. 

Colin Clarke 

 


 


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