Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Antonín DVORÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony No. 1 in C minor "The Bells of Zlonice"
The Wood Dove
Op. 110
"Carnival" Overture Op. 92

Berliner Philharmoniker
Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks
conductor: Rafael Kubelik
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON Galleria 469 550-2 [ADD 75:39]
Crotchet   AmazonUK   AmazonUS

Reproduced in the booklet notes of this disc is an enlightening essay by Rafael Kubelik outlining his own thoughts on the Symphony No. 1, or more to the point on its inadequacies. He points out that when he was first asked to record Dvorák's complete symphonic output he had serious doubts as to whether the work should be committed to disc at all. The reasons for his concern were twofold. Firstly, the composer did not acknowledge the work during his lifetime, discarding it in his typically self-critical way, as juvenilia. Secondly, there are numerous technical inconsistencies, both harmonically and structurally, which have never been cleared up due to the lack of a revised score by the composer (as opposed to the following three symphonies which, although unpublished during the composer's lifetime, were revised in preparation for publication). He goes as far as to suggest that the symphony should have remained unnumbered.

In spite of this there are aspects of Dvorák's mature style clearly on display, both in terms of his natural melodic gifts and, as Kubelik again points out, in his tendency to combine symphonic structure with musical scene painting usually influenced by Czech folk culture. Whatever your viewpoint on the shortcomings of the work (and it has to be acknowledged that they do exist) there are few such concerns with the performance. Kubelik stamps his authority on it from the very opening, as the bold declaration from the horns gives way to Dvorák's representation of the "Bells of Zlonice" themselves. The affecting Adagio molto which follows has some touching moments although could perhaps be a little warmer in its passion at times. It is the Allegretto third movement that in many ways marks the whole performance, full of character with Kubelik and his Berlin players really tuned in to the rhythmic nuances of the attractive folk melody. The Allegretto finale, perhaps lacks the cohesion of some the later symphonies, but Kubelik builds the momentum to a suitably impressive conclusion.

It is The Wood Dove, which for this listener at least, is the highlight of the disc. Written in 1896 as one of a group of four symphonic poems (the others being The Water Goblin, The Noonday Witch and The Golden Spinning Wheel) this is a performance brimming over with atmosphere as it tells the tale, based on Czech legend, of infatuation and murder in a rural village. Kubelik gets inside the character of the work immediately, as the opening mysterious funeral march, from which all of the subsequent thematic material emanates, weaves its spell. He conjures some magical playing from his forces who clearly respond with playing of vivid effect, the rustic wedding festivities of the central section being particularly joyous. So much of this music pre-empts Janácek and it is interesting to note that it was Janácek who conducted the premiere of the work in 1898.

A blistering performance of the Carnival Overture concludes the disc, bristling with life and energy, and taken at pretty much breakneck speed. True, the ensemble does lose a little tautness in places, but it more than makes up for this in spirit and sheer joie de vivre.

The remastering of the original recordings, which date from 1973 to 1976, has been reasonably successful although tending to lack a little warmth and therefore sounding somewhat clinical at times. Nevertheless, at mid-price, this is a genuinely worthwhile issue, which represents good value for money for the performance of The Wood Dove alone.

Christopher Thomas

Return to Index

Reviews from previous months
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board.  Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.This is the only part of MusicWeb for which you will have to register.

You can purchase CDs, tickets and musician's accessories and Save around 22% with these retailers: