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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony No. 9 From the New World (1893) [43:20]
Vítěslav NOVÁK (1870-1949)

Slovak Suite Op.32 (1903) [29:25]
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Zdeněk Mácal

rec. Rudolfinum, Prague, October 2003 (Slovak Suite) and January 2004 (Symphony)
EXTON OVCL 00250 [72:51]


Given that the principal work is From the New World let’s start with the Slovak Suite or Slovacko as it’s called in Czech – properly the Moravian-Slovak Suite. There is no shortage of competition even here, though obviously more a trickle than a Dvořákian torrent.

Mácal has the great benefit of his Czech Philharmonic and a good recording. But In Church doesn’t flow with quite the sense of logic as Talich or František Vajnar summoned, both with the Czech Philharmonic and both on Supraphon, and neither is he quite as subtle as their readings. But Among Children is rhythmically well sprung and Two in Love unfolds eloquently – very warmly and with a well judged contrasting trio section, though just a touch on the slow side overall. The folkloric fiddles exemplify The Band adroitly though perhaps the phrasing could be more expressive in At Night. It’s a fine reading but not for me a frontrunner.

The Czech Philharmonic/Talich is the classic historical reading, though the recording is saddled with a weedy organ. The Royal Liverpool and Pešek are very expansive, far too much so for my liking. Šejna and the Brno State Philharmonic turn in a much admired reading preferable as a performance, despite its relative antiquity, to the Pešek and also to the Prague Chamber Philharmonic/Bělohlávek. A pity that the big-hearted Bohumil Gregor didn’t record it, as his other Novák performances on disc were splendid. Which leaves my favourite, the Vajnar.

If you can face another New World, here’s another New World. Mácal however has decided views on proportion and tempo, so it’s not a dull performance by any means. The opening movement is quite slow and genial. There’s a certain refined quality to the music making; certainly he abjures overt theatrics and blistering climaxes. Phrasing is pliant and the string choirs are moulded with generosity. The brass is rounded and never blares. Fortissimi are malleable and contained; mellow, not cutting. The slow movement has an infused piety and simplicity. It’s also unusually grave in places, with deftly deployed dynamics. Not everyone will respond positively but I rather warmed to it. The scherzo is bold but not over done and the finale is once again a study in refined and relaxed projection. Some of the string phrasing is gorgeous – though some may well find once more a want of vitality. So this is really the obverse of the classic Reiner; it also offers a widely differing perspective from classic native performances as well, especially in its extended opening movement.

The recording is fine, quite close, and not especially "bloomy" but sympathetic. Which is the word that rather sums up this disc – sympathetic, and affectionate as well.

Jonathan Woolf


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