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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
DVD documentary of Dvořák’s life and music

interspersed with a performance of String Quartet No.10 in E flat major Op. 51
plus CDs of
Symphony No. 9 in E minor "From the New World" *
Serenade for Strings in E major†
Slavonic Dances Op. 46 ●
Cello Concerto ◙
Zara Nelsova (cello)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Paavo Järvi *, Sir Yehudi Menuhin † John Farrer●
Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra/Walter Süsskind ◙
No provenance given to any of the CD recordings except that the Slavonic Dances were ‘Licensed from’ ASV and the Cello Concerto by Vox USA
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 92408 [1 DVD and 2 CDs: 74:46 + 76:39]

 

An enterprising if not entirely successful idea. I am assuming that this album is meant as an educational tool, an introduction to the music of Dvořŕk. The CDs music has already been issued on other Brilliant Classics collections. (Other super budget Brilliant Classic DVD/CD sets in the series are devoted to: Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, Bach, Beethoven, Vivaldi, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Handel, Puccini and Ravel.)

Dealing first with the DVD. This is devoted to what I can only describe as an eccentric and too superficial documentary that disconcertingly moves backwards and forwards through the life of the Czech composer. There are, it is true, some imaginative graphics and absorbing old contemporary photographs taken in Bohemia and America. But the flow of the documentary is interspersed at different points by single movements of Dvořŕk’s Tenth String Quartet – one might query why this work, why not a more popular orchestral work.

Of course being a visual documentary, the producers have had to include some visual treats to maintain attention while the String Quartet is being performed. One movement has two young ladies, beautiful twins agreed, but cavorting on a table in a meadow as the quartet performs in front of them? Another movement has visuals with a Rusalka flavour – a young woman lies in a brook, Pre-Raphaelite Ophelia-like, before she rises from the water to seduce a young woman and entice him, water nymph-like, to a watery grave. A third movement has visuals in a butcher’s shop to remind us of Dvořák’s humble beginnings. Then the string quartet players are transferred to a wood for three gypsies to cavort around them .

The CD recordings are of ageing performances, sometimes, I guess, reissued a number of times. Recorded sound varies from good to very good.

The CDs comprise performances that range from the so-so to the very good. The best is Zara Nelsover’s warm-hearted, sensitive recording of the Cello Concerto which I seem to remember dates from the 1950s? [This performance was originally issued as part of an all Dvořák release – Brilliant Classics 99763 and reviewed on MusicWeb. Süsskind is a most sympathetic accompanist bringing out all the autumnal colours and nostalgia of that lovely Adagio second movement. Paavo Järvi’s recording of the New World Symphony with the RPO, included here has also been previously released by Brillaint Classics as part of a boxed set of all the Dvořák symphonies.The performance has zest to recommend it with some interesting idiosyncratic phrasing.

Menuhin’s recording of the Serenade for Strings is uneven, sometimes beautifully realised like the sheen of the strings in the Tempo de valse and diffident in the opening Moderato. John Farrer’s way with the lovely Slavonic Dances is sometimes heavy-handed and lacking in charm. Both recordings had also been previously released by Brilliant Classics.

I should add that the packaging includes no printed notes aboput the music whatsoever. This is shoe-string super-budget stuff with a vengeance!

This DVD/CD introduction to the life and works of Dvořŕk is only partially successful The DVD documentary is downright eccentric and the ageing CD recordings varied in quality

 

Ian Lace



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