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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95/B178 (1893) [45:01].
Zdenĕk FIBICH (1850-1900)
Podvečer (At twilight), Op. 39 (1893) [16:10]
Philharmonia Hungarica/Jan Valach.
rec. No details given. DDD
TALENT SACD DOM 292917 [61:14]



If you’re going to buy this SACD at all, do so for the Fibich. Presumably added as a makeweight and because it is exactly contemporaneous with the famous New World Symphony, Podvečer was Fibich’s last symphonic poem. Its middle section - and the part often excerpted as ‘Počme’ - is a portrait of the composer’s beloved Anezka Schulzova. In fact this expansive middle section evokes many sounds of Nature. The whole piece is lovely and the Philharmonia Hungarica plays with real affection - the solo cello, uncredited, is not wholly in tune, however. The music suddenly becomes very Richard Straussian just after the fifteen-minute mark. There are even nods towards Rimsky-Korsakov!

Do try to hear this work. There are two Supraphon performances that spring to mind that you might find more authentic, though – Sejna in 1950 with the Czech Philharmonic on S1920-2 and Vajnar with the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra in 1983 on SU3197-2. Neumann is available with the ‘Počme’ on Orfeo and Supraphon, both Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.

I cannot muster much enthusiasm for this New World. It begins in rather ponderous fashion - almost reverential - but soon becomes sluggish. Drama is lost throughout the first movement. The recording tends to muddy in the lower-mid, timps either suffer from the recording or are played with the softest felt. Balance can be strange – the brass is near-inaudible at around 5:05; around the eight-minute mark the only phrase I could find was, ‘deadly dull’.

The famous slow movement is better - there is some sense of atmosphere here. Opinions vary on the use of horn vibrato, but it usually works with Central European players, and here it is just right. A shame the acoustic seems too boomy; although Producer/Engineer/Editor details are given, there is no indication as to venue or recording date. The Scherzo marks a return to the problems of the first movement. Here accents are blunted and the Trio lumbers along – remember the loss of momentum of the first movement? The sound, too, can feel congested. Fatally, in the finale around 3:08 the ensemble actually threatens to crumble.

Booklet notes are brief to say the least. It appears this disc previously appeared as Forlane FF036. The SACD format offers few favours here. If you really want the Fibich, then this is an acceptable performance. But there are so many fine New Worlds that a recommendation is frankly difficult here.

Colin Clarke



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