> Dvorak - Symphony No. 9 [CC]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Antonín DVORÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony No. 9 in E minor ‘From The New World’, Op. 95/B178 (1893) [42.12]
Symphonic Variations, Op. 78/B70 (1877) [23'39]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Zdenek Mácal
Rec in Watford Town Hall on January 8th-9th, 1980 (Op. 78); January 5th-6th, 1982 (Op. 95). [ADD (Op. 78]; DDD [Op. 95])


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Firstly, the 'New World'. I once heard Mácal conduct this piece with the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester's Free Trade Hall. He breathed new life into this most unpredictable of British orchestras, who responded to his evident care and love for Dvořák with elan. It would appear that the LPO were just as enthusiastic in this 1982 recording, and despite the very obvious attractions of Mácal's 'Symphonic Variations', it is the 'New World' that receives a white-hot performance and can comfortably sit with the very best.

Mácal and his orchestra evidently put much preparation into this recording: the amount of audible detail is astonishing, further elucidation coming from the clear yet warm recording (via the classic team of producer Martin Compton and engineer 'Mr Bear').

The first movement comes complete with exposition repeat so that the symphony appears in proportion. An undercurrent of dramatic tension underpins the entire movement, successfully contextualizing the lyrical passages. Similarly, the famous second movement, with its eloquent cor anglais solo, is expressive without being over-indulgent. The entry of the brass with their quiet closing chords is a moment of magic.

The attack and spirit of the third movement acts as a reminder of how good the LPO can be. The gritty recording supports the energy of the Scherzo, and the Trio features some characterful wind playing, but it is the finale that really impresses. It acts as a true climax to the work: the LPO plays determinedly (the horn solo towards the end is particularly worthy of note). This is a memorable reading.

The earlier 'Symphonic Variations' (dating from 1877 and premiered in that year) does not quite match the Symphony in quality, but is nevertheless a fine account. The theme (Dvořák's own, from a part-song for male voice chorus) is presented as tranquil but nevertheless pregnant with possibilities. The LPO capture the shifting emotions of this work well (including a jubilant Scherzo and an affecting Valse), closing with a Finale full of energy and brio. Perhaps Mackerras on EMI (CDEMX2216, coupled with the Eighth Symphony) pips this to the post as a recommendation, but as a coupling this disc remains a triumph.

Colin Clarke


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