Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841–1904)
Symphony No.7 in D minor, op.70 (1884/1885) [37:04]
Symphony No.8 in G, op.88 (1889) [37:17]
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/Marin Alsop
rec. live, 10–13 January 2008 (8); 19–22 March 2009 (7), Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Baltimore, USA. DDD
NAXOS 8.572112 [74:21]

After Alsop and her Baltimore Orchestra’s magnificent performance of the New World Symphony (Naxos 8.570714) this was an issue which I eagerly anticipated, perhaps with a little too much expectation.

The Seventh is Dvořák’s ‘Tragic Symphony’, a dark and brooding work, created in the minor key and filled with catastrophe and foreboding. Even the dance–like scherzo isn’t the light-hearted piece it should be. I have written elsewhere that one of the most exciting things about Marin Alsop is that she is inspirational, and in concert creates the most electrifying performances. At the same time, this kind of inspiration isn’t always conveyed from a disk, when you can hear the performance repeatedly. I feel this very strongly in this performance of the Seventh Symphony, which is exciting, colourful and very good, but as an interpretation lacks drive and drama. Even the opening is totally lacking in mystery. Overall, it is all too charming – Dvořák’s smiling face is in every bar, but this isn’t what is wanted. Here is a very serious work which is full of some of this composer’s deepest symphonic thoughts and the final Tierce de Picardie, far from bringing about a state of satisfaction and well-being, merely serves to create even greater tension and despair. Alsop seems to see the work as another of Dvořák’s good natured peasants–dancing–and–frolicking–in–the–fields pieces, rather than the catastrophic, and indeed dangerous, work it is.

The Eighth Symphony is the smiling, gambling and frolicking Dvořák we know and love. After the too light touch she brought to the Seventh I fully expected Alsop to be more at home here, but again I was disappointed. She sometimes brings too much weight to music which neither needs, nor demands, it, whilst at other times she can be bland. Added to which it is far too lightweight, not that any real weight is required in this work, but it needs more than it is given here.

As concert performances these would probably be most acceptable, but they are not for repeated listening for they do not carry the full authority of performance which is essential to a CD for home consumption. For passion and a real sense of balance and style, go either to Barbirolli, with his beloved Hallé (No.7 is coupled with No.9 on Phoenixa 63774 and No.8 is coupled with the Scherzo Capriccioso and three Legends on Phoenixa 64193) or, if you want both Symphonies together, the Philharmonia under Kubelik (Testament SBT 1079) or the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, under Libor Pesek (Virgin Classics 90756). These are great Dvořák interpretations.

The sound is excellent, you’d never believe that these were live performances for there isn’t a murmur from the audience! The notes are good, but I cannot say that this is worth having for the interpretations simply aren’t up to the music. A rare failure for this wonderful conductor.

Bob Briggs