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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony No 8 in G major, Op. 88 [35’42"]
Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104* [42’03"]
*Gregor Piatigorsky (cello)
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Charles Munch
Recorded in 1961 and 1960 (precise dates and venue not specified) ADD
BMG RCA RED SEAL 82876 55302 2 [77’55"]


This generously filled CD couples two fine performances from near the end of Charles Munch’s association with the Boston Symphony. (He was its Music Director from 1949 until 1962.) Though no information is given as to the venue for the recordings it would be very surprising if they did not emanate from Symphony Hall, Boston. The sound is pretty good for its age. There’s quite a "big" sound reported but I for one have no complaints about sound quality.

No complaints about the quality of the performances, either. The symphony gets a generally strong, forthright reading, though I don’t mean by that that Munch is not properly observant of the more relaxed, lyrical passages in which this wonderful piece abounds. For my money the gorgeous melody with which the first movement opens is etched just a touch too broadly but Munch is still persuasive. In general his account of the first movement is flowing and spirited and this predominantly genial music is put across well.

The adagio benefits hugely from the famed richness of the Boston strings. There is warmth in the playing throughout but in the passage from letter G to letter J in the score (track 2, 6’10" to 7’11") the music darkens, perceptibly so in this reading. The scherzo has charm and grace. The proud trumpet tune with which the finale opens is projected here with an unusually arresting confidence; this is American brass playing at its most incisive though to some it might appear a touch strident. Thereafter Munch and his Bostonians give a robust, sometimes earthy performance but one in which the renowned BSO polish is never absent. It’s an often powerful reading of the movement and some may find it a bit too strong but I enjoyed it as, indeed, I enjoyed the whole symphony.

The soloist in the Cello Concerto is Gregor Piatigorsky (1903-1976). He projects an assertive, positive musical personality. From the very start the orchestral introduction is strongly conveyed, preparing the way for the first solo entry very well indeed. The famous horn solo, presenting the second subject for the first time, is ripely played. From his very first statement Piatigorsky plays splendidly, mixing virtuosity and poetry as the score demands. He also receives first class, responsive support from Munch and his orchestra. When Piatigorsky reprises the second subject (track 5, 5’43") there’s a wonderful inwardness to his playing.

He’s equally successful in the slow movement. In particular there’s a real Slavic longing in the opening paragraphs. Throughout the work Piatigorsky’s tone is lovely, but never more so than in this wistful yet passionate movement. The finale is powerful and both soloist and conductor realise successfully the sweep and ardour inherent in the music. Much of the movement is big and extrovert. However, the meno mosso before the end (track 7, from 10’18") is an inspired touch on Dvořák’s part and, as is the case with all the other lyrical passages that have preceded it in the work, Piatigorsky and Munch deliver it with great feeling and no little sensitivity.

If one was looking for a first choice recording of either work in isolation one might consider alternatives. There is, for example, Sir Colin Davis’s fine account of the symphony with the Concertgebouw while the Rostropovich/Karajan reading of the concerto has rightly achieved classic status. However, this coupling of two of Dvořák’s greatest masterpieces has the benefit of convenience and I doubt that anyone buying these fine performances is likely to be disappointed.

John Quinn



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