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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Slavonic Dances Op. 46 [33:58]
Slavonic Dances Op. 72 [31:46]
'Carnival' Overture Op. 92 [9:05]
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Vaclav Talich
rec. 27-28 November 1935, EMI Studio 1, Abbey Road, London
NAXOS 8.111331 [74:49]
Experience Classicsonline

It is easy to assume that because many of them are so well known and they are all so wonderfully tuneful and inventive that the Slavonic Dances are easy to play. However you only have to listen to performances with conductors who either feel they must do something different with them or who do not feel instinctively the dancing rhythms to know that they can sound obvious, boring or just lumpy in the wrong hands. That is emphatically not the case here, and in the less frequently played but on the whole more interesting second set almost every bar contains object lessons in how the music ought to be played. They sound always natural and full of life. The restoration of the recordings by Mark Obert-Thorn seems to be well done, although I admit that it did take me a little time to get used to the somewhat harsh sound of the violins in their higher register, but once I had done that it was pleasure all the way.

Vaclav Talich (1883-1961) conducted the Czech Philharmonic for the first time in 1917 and was made chief conductor in 1919. His last concert with them was in 1954. The present recordings were made during a visit to London in 1935 and throughout they demonstrate a real commitment to and understanding of the music. Somehow they avoid any hint of routine. The strings play with real fervour and the individuality of the woodwind and brass players is a constant delight. Internal balance is always unobtrusively right and speeds are carefully chosen and varied to reveal the changing character of the music. Most repeats are observed although there are minor cuts, presumably to fit the original discs.

It is good also to have the 'Carnival' Overture here. In a vital performance like this more than ever it sounds like a halfway house between the Dances and the Concert Overtures and Symphonic Poems.

It is inevitable because of their age that these recordings cannot do full justice to the Dances. They are nonetheless an essential supplement to almost any modern recording of them that I have heard, and fully justify the claim on the sleeve to be 'historical recordings' under a 'Great Conductor'.

John Sheppard 

See also review by Rob Maynard


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