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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony No. 7 in D minor Op. 70 (1885) [37:42]
Symphony No. 8 in G major Op. 88 (1889) [37:14]
Symphony No. 9 in E minor Op. 76 “From the New World” (1893) [44:26]
American Suite Op.98b (1895) [22:13]
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Libor Pešek
rec. Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, 1987
VIRGIN CLASSICS 5220392 [75:12 + 67:12]
Experience Classicsonline

You can find Pešek’s symphonic cycle on Virgin Classics 5618532 - the eight CD box set contains the symphonies and orchestral works. More selective purchasers, wanting the best-known symphonies, might want to gravitate to the Liverpool recordings contained in this two-disc set. The cycle of course was split between Liverpool and Pešek’s home turf, Prague.
 
I’d not heard them before. One can get all too cosily inured to other performances if, scanning one’s eye along the shelves, one sees the talismanic names – the obvious ones of Talich, Kubelík, Rowicki, Kertész, leavened by Szell, Reiner, Barbirolli et al (a very long et al) for other individual excellences.
 
Pešek can be undervalued but he’s more often inspired by Suk than Dvořák in my experience and for all the virtues on display here these are not world beating performances. The sound is a little distant for one thing and that crucial sense of spatial distance can tend to blunt the immediacy of the playing. The Seventh is an interesting example of not playing up the oft-quoted Brahmsian influences. Things here are, partly as a result of the recording, rather too diffuse to be fully effective, especially in the tuttis – this was a not entirely successful digital set-up. The string moulding is certainly effective and the Wagnerian cadences are, like the Brahmsian ones, not underlined in red ink – which is to the benefit of the symphonic argument. For those who feel this is the composer’s greatest and most consistently inspired symphonic statement the performance may well sound under-whelming.
 
The Eighth Symphony is rather better; buoyant and resilient. The central panel of the slow movement is slightly too italicised for my own tastes – Rowicki and the LSO in their classic recording are even slower here but the syntax is more tautly sustained. I tend to prefer a leaner tempo all round but a slower one can well be justified if it’s convincingly sustained – Kubelík is another who knows just how it should be done. The scherzo is charmingly balletic but the finale lets things down. The tempo really is too slow and the tempo relationships far too elastic - for all the sensitive detail unmasked the edifice tends to collapse.
 
The conductor remade the Ninth with the Prague Symphony and that was altogether a better all-round performance than this Liverpool one – faster and more incisive. Rhythmically too it was a class apart. Again Pešek takes a very laid back approach to the opening movement – especially for a Czech conductor. The leisurely slow movement is not so bad though it could do with a sharper sense of rhythmic pointing. It’s a pleasant all round recording, but rather slack and underpowered.
 
The American Suite is invariably well done – as it is here; warm, lyric, pliant and invigorating when required and with some excellent terraced dynamics.

You can easily anticipate me here. Pleasant but variably convincing performances, not optimally recorded, add up to a bit of a lukewarm reception.
 
Jonathan Woolf
 

 


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