First stop for anyone wanting some more background into Dvořák’s Symphony No.7 is with Paul Serotsky’s handy programme notes
on the work on this site. My own history with Dvořák’s Symphonies ranges from raging hormones playing them in various Welsh youth orchestras, followed by the fine 1960s Decca LP box set with Istvan Kertesz and the London Symphony Orchestra. Then, mostly in the 1980s and early 1990s the association continued with Vaclav Neumann conducting the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra on Supraphon cassettes. I’ve not gone out of my way to refresh my memories through further purchasing in recent years, but still have the Wolfgang Sawallisch set of the last three symphonies and cello concerto in an apparently somewhat under-rated EMI 1990 recording as a CD reference.
I like Sawallisch and the Philadelphia Orchestra, though admit his performance might not necessarily grip you throughout its entire span. Yakov Kreizberg has been receiving mixed reviews with his Dvořák symphonies for Pentatone. As I know both this orchestra and the recording location quite well I was intrigued to hear what would come out of the speakers.
The Yakult Hall in Amsterdam’s Beurs van Berlage is a sizeable space, originally designed as a trading floor for stocks and shares. It doesn’t quite have the really generous acoustic of something like the Prague ‘House of Artists’, or the almost timeless ambience of its nearby competitor the Concertgebouw. This means that the orchestra has less help from the acoustic. Though you would expect, desire and indeed get a fair bit of close detail on this fine SACD recording, I have the feeling that the environment hasn’t helped kick-start this performance from a merely excellent one, to one which truly inspires.
The playing on this recording is generally very fine, so don’t be put off by the not quite together entry of the clarinets 19 seconds into the first movement. With good playing, a fine dynamic feel and a recording of convincing solidity and depth, it’s harder to say why a performance doesn’t quite ‘do it’ over another. I think the Czech feeling of fresh air and wide spaces is lacking in the general effect of this recording. This something you certainly do get with Neumann and his Prague-based forces, though I accept that vibrato-laden horns and other such pungent features are distinctive to the region and not expected from a Dutch band. In the first movement, Kreizberg does well in the more climactic moments, and the lyrical lines are nicely shaped. I do however have the feeling that in the many transitional passages, some of the dips in tension, are ‘let go’ a little. There is an almost superficial feel at some moments, where I have the sense that we’re waiting for the next good bit rather than enjoying contrasts of tension and musical form to the full. The Poco adagio
second movement is pleasantly uncomplicated and Kreizberg allows it to breathe with natural sonority and a good balance in the various voices and layers. The grandly arching section at around 3:30 has magnificence, but the subsequent Brahmsian wind conversations, while well played, are a little on the bland side. The lower strings have their moment at around 6:00, and the wind figurations which accompany are deliciously light.
The dancing undertow of the Scherzo
is good, though there’s not so very much magic in some of the string playing early on. More impressive is the darker Finale
, where the closer-knit textures suit the overall accent of the performance better. There is something ugly going on in the strings at 1:31, but in general the impact of the music is lacking in flaws, and the ongoing pace is sustained even where Dvořák holds the tempi back. The dramatic build-up and conclusion are very good, but that rather special penultimate moment at 9:04 didn’t make my hair stand on end as it has sometimes in the past. In general, this Symphony No.7 is one which will go well enough with the other Kreizberg ones, if you are collecting the set, but other than having the SACD element to attract audiophiles I can’t see this becoming one of the classic recordings of the century. This is in no way a poor performance, and if there weren’t so many other fine versions around would be a safe recommendation. ‘Safe’ is the word however, rather than outstanding.
The Golden Spinning Wheel
is one of Dvořák’s late masterpieces, part of a sequence of four symphonic poems, in this case telling the rather nasty story of the maiden Dornicka’s experiences with love and treachery. Everything ends happily ever after, but Yakov Kreizberg and the NPO have a great time communicating the narrative through music, with all of its melodramatic corners and contrasts given plenty of moody swings, lifting and dropping the listener very convincingly indeed. The romantic sweep of the strings in those big tunes creates numerous lovely moments, as does the well placed harp and imposing brass. Kreizberg does follow the more recent trend for lingering perhaps a little too long over some sections, but the character in the playing and the gorgeous balance rescue this performance from self-indulgence. If this is your main reason for seeking out this disc, then you will most certainly not be disappointed by this recording.