> Dvorak - Ten Legends [CC]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Antonín DVORÁK (1841-1904)
Ten Legends, B122/Op. 59 (1881).
Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra/David Zinman.
First issued in 1984. [DDD]
WARNER APEX 7559 79676-2 [41'43]


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Dvorak wrote his charming 'Legends' between December 1880 and March 1881 for piano duet, orchestrating them later in 1881. This was as the result of a request from his publisher, Simrock, as follow-up works to the 'Slavonic Dances'. They should really be heard more frequently, for they are full of evocative charm, but for some reason they have not established anything like a firm hold in the repertoire. Some of them would make delightful encores (and a refreshing change from the 'Slavonic Dances' mentioned above!).

Issuing the 'Legends' on their own on a single disc, even at super-budget price, however, is surely a mistake. With a total playing time of less than 42 minutes, these had better be exceptional performances: unfortunately, in the event, they are really rather routine.

Originally issued in 1984 by Elektra/Asylum/Nonesuch, it is difficult to see who Warner are aiming at in their marketing strategy, given the competition. Far more rewarding encounters lie elsewhere. Kubelik, hardly surprisingly given his proclivity for this composer's music, is available twice: on Testament SBT1181 (Philharmonia Orchestra) and on DG 453 025-2, a 1976 recording with the ECO coupled on a twofer with a performance of the much-underrated Stabat mater (DG 453 025-2: for more on the 'Stabat mater', see my review of a live performance at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall in the 'Seen & Heard' part of this site). The indefatigable Ivan Fischer with his Budapest Festival Orchestra is superb on Philips 464 647-2, in a much better filled disc which also includes the beautiful Notturno in B and the Prague Waltzes.

The New York-based Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra was founded by George Eastman in 1922. Subsequent Music Directors have included Eugene Goossens, Erich Leinsdorf and David Zinman (the conductor of the present disc): Christopher Seaman is presently at the orchestra's helm: for more details, see www.rpo.org.

Right from the opening statement of Legend No. 1 (Allegro, in D minor), there is a literalism in evidence which precludes the necessary evocation of the composer's homeland. Any vestiges of affectionate tenderness are lacking, replaced instead by a well-drilled but emotionally crippled interpretative stance characteristic of many second-league orchestras.

No. 2 in G needs a more Dvořákian warmth and affection (No. 3 in G minor is similarly afflicted). Legend No. 4 in C reveals the hardness of the recording of levels of forte and above; it is also distinctly lacking in brio when required; No. 5 in A flat demands more sensitivity to shifting moods than is revealed here. No. 6 in C sharp minor seems more closely attuned, although No. 7 in A seems too short for its own good. No. 8 in F sits on the music's surface rather, and the wind solos seem to cry out for players of more individual character than the Rochester Philharmonic's principals; No. 9 in D needs more bounce. The final Legend in B flat minor goes some way towards the requisite nostalgia, without quite getting there.

Disappointing, despite the price tag.

Colin Clarke

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