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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Antonín DVORÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Opus 70
Symphony No. 8 in G major, Opus 88
Philharmonia Orchestra/Sir Andrew Davis
Rec 2-5 January (No. 8) & 18-19 July (No. 7) 1999, EMI Studios, London
SONY CLASSICAL SBK 67174 (75.24)


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These two symphonies, surely Dvorák's greatest (despite the popularity of the New World, No. 9), have English connections. The commission to compose the Symphony No. 7 came from London, following the rapturous response to the performance there of his Sixth Symphony the previous March. Elected an Honorary Member of the Philharmonic Society of London (which became the Royal Philharmonic Society in 1912), he was at the same time asked to respond with a new symphony. And the Symphony No. 8 was first published by Novello of London, largely because the composer was for a short time embroiled in a dispute with Simrock, his usual publisher.

In these auspicious circumstances Dvořák intended that Symphony No.7 in D minor should be 'capable of shaking the world' Music of tragic intensity, its four movements are generated by inspiration of the highest order, whose nature stemmed directly from the Dvořák's intention to create his most powerful score to date. Yet there is nothing inflated about the symphony, which is scored for the 'standard' orchestra of the day: pairs of woodwind, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani and strings. In fact the relatively modest resources intensify the delivery of the musical material and the symphonic argument, with darkly coloured orchestration which is at once imaginative and resourceful.

All these things are abundantly clear in the performance the Philharmonia Orchestra and Andrew Davis recorded in July 1979. They are supported by an admirably rich and clear recording. Like any great symphony this music is greater than any one performance of it, and while other conductors (István Kertesz and Libor Pesek, for example) may offer more Czech inflections to the rhythms of the third movement, Davis has the music's measure well enough. Add the quality of the orchestral playing, with the Philharmonia at the top of their form, and this is a most competitive issue.

The Symphony No. 8 can also be recommended with confidence. Despite the English connections, this is one of the most thoroughly Bohemian works the composer ever created. The music has a rhapsodic freedom at the same time as a very natural sense of continuity. Moreover it is much less concerned the taut construction of the classical symphonic tradition than any of its predecessors. Andrew Davis chooses tempi which allow both forward momentum and an appreciation of the music's innate lyrical qualities. Again one can find more idiomatically Czech performances, perhaps, but this remains hugely enjoyable. There is room for drama too, as at the climax of the slow movement, which achieves a striking intensity of expression. Likewise the variation form finale has a sweep of momentum which is at once cogent and compelling.

While admitting that there are other fine recordings of these two great symphonies, these performances by Davis and the Philharmonia are particularly enjoyable.

Terry Barfoot


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