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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Symphonic Poems
The Water Sprite, Opus 107 (1896)
The Noonday Witch, Opus 108 (1896)
The Golden Spinning Wheel, Opus 109 (1896)
The Wild Dove, Opus 110 (1896)
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/ Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Rec December 1997 (Wild Dove), December 1998 (Noonday Witch), October 1999 (Water Sprite), October 2001 (Golden Spinning Wheel), Concertgebouw, Amsterdam
TELDEC 2564 60221-2 [2CDs: 42.42, 41.03]

 

Dvořák had completed his nine symphonies when he turned to the composition of symphonic poems after returning to his homeland from America. This was perhaps for reasons of nationalistic nostalgia, and he also paid close attention to operatic projects at this time. The series of symphonic poems took versions of old Czech fairy stories by the poet Jan Karomir Erben, bringing them colourfully to life, using a larger orchestra than in the more classically inclined symphonies and concertos. The composer had based his earlier oratorio The Spectre's Bride on Erben's poetry, and the poet's death in 1895 inspired him to this new project.

Like the stories of the Brothers Grimm, Erben's Czech folk tales are uniformly gruesome, vividly unpleasant. They inspired Dvořák to some of his most powerful and colourful orchestral writing, heard at its best, perhaps, when the tautness of the construction is at its most concise. Of these four examples, therefore, The Noonday Witch and The Water Sprite seem more compelling than The Wild Dove and The Golden Spinning Wheel. Or to put it another way, the latter two pieces pose an extra challenge of interpretation, which in these performances results in a certain slackness of intensity.

The recorded sound is generally impressive. Take the opening of CD1, The Golden Spinning Wheel, which has particularly vivid orchestral sound, admirably captured in the spacious Concertgebouw acoustic. The rhythms drive the music on with the utmost vitality and energy, as they do in the other pieces too. But nearly half an hour is a long span of unbroken music, and the tensions do slacken somewhat as the music proceeds - more than in István Kertesz's performance with the LSO (Decca), also beautifully recorded though of an earlier generation.

These misgivings apply also, though perhaps less strongly, to The Wild Dove, in which the musical challenge of time-span is paramount. The playing is always as reliable and sophisticated as one would expect from this source.

The two shorter pieces, The Noonday Witch and The Water Sprite, are more compelling, and the latter is as exciting a performance as can be found on disc. Harnoncourt's pointing of rhythm and shaping of phrase generates an excellent balance and cogency to the whole piece, which emerges as a real masterwork. And nowhere does Dvořák orchestrate to better effect or to higher priority than in these symphonic poems, making the rich and sensitive Teldec sound a great bonus.

The two discs play for only a shade over the time limits of one, amounting to just under 83 minutes in total; but this is reflected in the price. But they come in a nicely produced slim case, including a carefully planned leaflet containing the necessary information of background and stories.


Terry Barfoot

 



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