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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 (1843-1904)
Eight Slavonic Dances Op.46 (1878)
Eight Slavonic Dances Op.72 (1886)
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Václav Neumann
Recorded circa 1972 (no venue details given) ADD Super-budget
WARNER APEX 0927-48999-2 [75’29]



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These marvellously infectious works are among Dvořák’s most popular, so it comes as no surprise to find a number of excellent versions gracing the record catalogue. In this budget (or lower mid-price) category, there are very recommendable discs from Kubelik and the Bavarian RSO (DG), Maazel and the Berlin Phil.(EMI Red Line), Dorati and the Minneapolis SO (Mercury) and, best of all, Szell and the Cleveland on Sony Essential. Actually, the Szell disc is the only top rated one truly in the Apex super-budget category, so for new collectors, or those on a very tight budget, this new re-issue by Neumann and the superb Czech Philharmonic may well appeal, providing as it does a suitable foil for the rather hard driven Szell.

In fact, it may well be axiomatic that this Neumann version (which, I have to confess, is new to me) was always going to be idiomatically played and a pleasure to listen to. This is indeed the case, with supple, flexible string playing, beautifully characterful wind solos and heroic, full-toned brass playing. The recording (early 70s analogue) is warm and full-bodied, with a nicely resonant acoustic.

Neumann’s tempi are, on the whole, more relaxed than Szell’s (which is not difficult). This may make for a less exciting time in some of the more energetic dances (particularly the two Furiants), but brings many rewards in other areas. Neumann often brings out the playfulness of the pieces, pointing up their close proximity to the polkas and waltzes of Strauss’s Vienna. Buried cello lines, rich in descant resonance, are teased out by Neumann (as in the E minor Dumka, Op.72 No.10), and the warm yet transparent textures of this great orchestra are allowed to sing. There is certainly a rush of adrenalin where required, though grace and elegance, rather than fierceness, are the main hallmarks. The wonderful C major Furiant that opens the first set (surely a cousin to the corresponding Furiant movement of the 6th Symphony) has a crispness of attack, as well as light and shade, that are as compelling as Szell’s admittedly high-octane thrills. If Szell is a shade brisker in the allegros and prestos, Neumann certainly keeps things flowing in the slower pieces, so that the Lento grazioso of the final dance, No.8 in A flat, keeps its dance overtones.

Indeed, I found very little to complain about in these performances. Dynamic contrasts are sharply defined through all the dances, and one is constantly made aware of the beauty and subtlety of the instrumentation. Collectors who know and love these works will no doubt already have their favourite version – there are many excellent full price discs from, among others, Previn, Pletnev and Dohnanyi, as well as Czech rivals from Talich and Ancerl. But given the market that Apex issues are aimed at, to say nothing of the many musical reasons, this disc should find its place, and it really does deserve success.

Tony Haywood



Gerard Hoffnung CDs

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