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alternatively Crotchet

Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
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]
Symphony No. 7 in D minor Op. 70 (1885) [37:03]
Symphony No. 8 in G major Op. 88 (1889) [36:42]
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]
Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra/Mariss Jansons
rec. Konserthuset, Oslo, Norway, 1988-1992. DDD
EMI CLASSICS TRIPLE 5008782 [3 CDs: 64:20 + 73:45 + 52:28]

Mariss 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 Dvořák playing anywhere.

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 Capriccioso.
Disc two contains excellent performances of the seventh and the eighth symphonies. The competition here is fierce, but 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 an explosively 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 moments.
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 sixth 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 gaining 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.
Tim Perry

see also review by Rob Barnett


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