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Antonin DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony No.6 in D, Op.60/B112 [49:05]
Vodnik (The Water Goblin), Op.107/B195 [11:02]
Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra/Yakov Kreizberg
rec. Yakult Hall, Amsterdam, June, 2005 (Goblin); December, 2006 (Symphony). DDD/DSD.
Pentatone SACD PTC5186 302 [69:18]
Experience Classicsonline

The Sixth is one of my favourite Dvořák symphonies and, having already read two reviews of this recording, one very positive, the other slightly less so, I was expecting to enjoy it very much. Bob Briggs was impressed by Kreizberg’s recent RFH performance of the Dvořák Violin Concerto with Julia Fischer, so his credentials for the composer are good. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy listening to this new account – Dvořák is always worth listening to – but, in the event, it fell short of eliciting the most positive response.

This seems to be one of those cases where different reviewers hear quite different things in the performance. The more positive review praised Kreizberg’s tendency to keep to one basic tempo for a whole movement, the less positive noted that he applied plenty of rubato. In a sense, both those statements are true, though it is the tinkerings with the basic tempo that struck me most in the opening movement. I’m not averse to performers ‘leaning’ on the music – I’m bowled over by Woolley and the Purcell Quartet when they do this with great subtlety in their Chandos recording of the Bach keyboard concertos, for example – but it doesn’t always work. Here it too often seems forced, the effect too obvious to be successful.

Despite a fairly fast basic tempo, too, that first movement seems overlong at 18:43, thanks to exposition repeats about which Dvořák himself was at best ambiguous. In most performances, the first and second movements are about equal in length; not so here, where, thanks in part to a fairly fast second movement, the first is almost twice as long as the second. For comparison, Gunzenhauser takes 12:32, Bělohlávek 13:09 and Ančerl 13:08 – a surprising degree of near-unanimity.

That second movement and the remaining movements go much better, so that, with surprisingly good playing from the Netherlands Philharmonic – hardly one of the world’s top names – and good, though not exactly outstanding, recording as heard ion stereo only, much of the criticism of the first movement can be forgotten. Nevertheless, I shan’t be replacing the Naxos recording with the Slovak Philharmonic and Stephen Gunzenhauser (8.550268), bargain basement in price but not in terms of performance and, with a very generous playing time nine minutes longer than the PentaTone, it includes an equally attractive performance and recording of the Third Symphony – an early work but well worth hearing. The Naxos cover, with its view of Prague in 1840, is more attractive than PentaTone’s photograph of the conductor.

When it comes to the filler, The Water Goblin, criticisms are left even further behind. This account almost, but not quite, banishes memories of Rafael Kubelík’s excellent version, now available on a superb 3-CD DG Trio collection (469 366 2). Many collectors will already own that DG recording in its current format or in its earlier 2-CD incarnation, thereby compromising the attractions of this PentaTone disc further.

Setting all the criticisms aside, I shall certainly be trying some of Kreizberg’s other recordings – a dozen or so for PentaTone to date. Ian Lace was very pleased with his version of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, which he made Recording of the Month, though his chief praise was for Julia Fischer’s solo performance – see review. Jonathan Woolf was less impressed – interestingly enough he found what he called ‘metrical displacements’ in the outer movements just as troublesome as I found the similar phenomenon in the first movement of the Dvořák– see review.

We weren’t exactly short of good versions of Dvořák’s most Brahmsian symphony: this new version joins the ranks of recommended versions by Mackerras (Supraphon SU3771-2, with the Czech Phil), Myung-Whun Chung (DG 469 046 2, generously coupled with the 8th.) and Bělohlávek (Chandos CHAN9170 – revered in some quarters and regarded as sluggish by others).

We’re even well provided with budget-price versions: Kubelík on DGG 463 158-2; István Kertész’s complete LSO box of the symphonies and overtures (Decca, 6 CDs, 430 046 2, or Nos.4-6 plus overtures on a Double Decca 473 789 2) and Stephen Gunzenhauser with the Slovak PO (Naxos, complete symphonies on 8.506010 or the 6th. coupled with the 3rd. as noted above.) At mid price, Karel Ančerl with the Czech Philharmonic on Ančerl Gold edition 19 (Supraphon SU36792, a generous 75-minute CD with three overtures as fillers) offers perhaps the best version and best value of all, if it’s half as good as what I remember of the LP incarnation of this recording.

Like this PentaTone version, the Ančerl recording is available from eMusic – I’m strongly tempted to go right back to the site and download it. That apart, the eMusic version of the PentaTone recording comes in decent sound, at rates varying from a below par 176kbps to a much more acceptable 224k, and may be recommended – except that, of course, it comes without notes (not a serious problem when the music is relatively mainstream) and Kreizberg is mis-spelled as Krelzberg, which could be a problem if you are searching for this recording via the conductor’s name. The download is, of course, in stereo only - SACD enthusiasts will need to buy the hard copy.

If you are considering this new Kreizberg recording, try to listen to the first movement before you buy.

Brian Wilson


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