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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
CD1 Symphony No. 5 in F major Op. 76 (1875) [37:47] Othello Overture Op. 93 (1891) [13:42] Scherzo Capriccioso Op. 66 (1883) [12:41] CD2 Symphony No. 7 in D minor Op. 70 (1885) [37:03]
Symphony No. 8 in G major Op. 88 (1889) [36:42] CD3 Symphony No. 9 in E minor Op. 76 “From the New World” (1893) [40:24] Bedrich SMETANA (1824-1884) Vltava from Ma Vlast (1874) [12:04]
rec. Konserthuset, Oslo, Norway, 1988-1992. DDD EMI CLASSICS TRIPLE 5008782 [3
CDs: 64:20 + 73:45 + 52:28]
Jansons has a wonderful way with Dvořák. Exuberant performances,
fresh and exciting, keenly attentive to intricacies and
united in purpose and attack.
You will not hear tighter
Rob Barnett has already reviewed this
set, both in this
incarnation and as licensed
by EMI to Brilliant
Classics. It is tempting to
enter a simple “I concur”, but I will be more discursive,
as these performances are worth writing about.
Mariss Jansons has a wonderful way with Dvořák. Each
of these performances is excellent and exuberant. The Oslo
Philharmonic Orchestra does not have the weight of string
tone that distinguishes the great European bands, but its
members are skilled musicians. With Jansons at the helm they
produce playing that is fresh and exciting, keenly attentive
to the scores' intricacies and united in purpose and attack.
You will not hear tighter Dvořák playing anywhere.
Jansons' performance of Dvořák's fifth is probably
the best I have heard. He eschews the “Pastoral” epithet
that was, without the composer's sanction, once used commonly
in reference to this symphony, and instead
of bucolic ease he injects an energised lyricism. Jansons'
approach is quite different to, say, Pesek's warmer, more
affectionate treatment on Virgin, but it is bracingly brilliant.
The sharply etched orchestral playing and EMI's clear sonics
ensure that the details of this lovely score emerge as
if newly minted and remain utterly memorable.
The fillers on the first disc are every bit as well done
as the symphony. The Oslo orchestra plays the daylights
out of both pieces, giving the concert overture, Othello,a
brooding, thrusting, dramatic performance and injecting
an almost malevolent glee into the Scherzo
Disc two contains excellent performances of the seventh
and the eighth symphonies. The competition here is fierce,
you will not hear the development of the seventh's first
movement surge with such wild energy elsewhere, and you
will have to sift through a pile of discs to find such
joyous rendition of the eighth's finale. The New World,
which opens the final disc, also gets a vigorous reading,
not as gripping
as Dorati's perhaps,
but offering greater delicacy in the score's more intimate
In each of these performances Jansons is right on top of
the score’s detail, pointing rhythms and hitting accents
to maintain a surging momentum, but pulling back and phrasing
expansively where necessary. Perhaps Mackerras' Classics
for Pleasure recordings of the last three symphonies delight
more, but Jansons' excite instead.
A fluent Vlatva closes the third disc.
In a way it is a shame that Jansons did not record another
Dvořák tone poem as a coupling.
However, this disc was one of Jansons' first for EMI and
the label evidently wanted something more marketable. Smetana's
most famous tone poem was an obvious choice. It would be
churlish to complain about this when the playing and conducting
are of such high quality. The spotlit piccolo may annoy some
listeners, but generally the orchestral balances are more
than acceptable – the tuba cuts through beautifully – and
they serve Jansons' stylish, slipstream interpretation.
There is a transparency to the sound across all three discs
which lets you hear the glories of each score at all levels,
though there is a slight brittleness to the sound on the
final disc, which was the first to be recorded.
It is a shame that this series exists as a torso of a cycle
rather than a complete set. Obviously Jansons has a feeling
for Dvořák’s idiom. He may have left Oslo before rounding
out the cycle, but he could have added to it with his subsequent
orchestras in Pittsburgh, Amsterdam or Munich as he did with
his roughly contemporaneous Shostakovich set. Of course,
not all conductors want to record all of the Dvořák
symphonies and many are happy with just the final three.
Had this been the case with Jansons, expectations would
not have been roused, but his success with the fifth suggests
that he could conjure wonderful recordings of the sunny
and the glorious third, my favourite of the early symphonies.
In sum, this is an excellent set and, at bargain price,
irresistible. Collectors will be taken with the urgency
of these performances
and delighted by the emergence of oft-hidden details in
the scores. New initiates on the other hand, as well as
excellent recordings of the final three symphonies, will
get a taste of Dvořák’s earlier symphonies and concert
music that will hopefully spur them on to explore more
of his oeuvre.
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