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CD: MDT AmazonUK AmazonUS

Antonin DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Serenade for Strings in E, Op. 22 (1875) [27:12]
rec. Evangelische Schlosskirche, Ludwigsburg, Germany, June 1975
Josef SUK (1874-1935)
Serenade for Strings in E-flat, Op. 6 (1892) [26:30]
Hugo WOLF (1860-1903)
Italian Serenade (1887/1892) [8:39]
rec. Schloss Ludwigsburg, Stuttgart, June 1971
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Holberg Suite, Op. 40 (1884) [17:13]
rec. Victoria Hall, Geneva, November 1956
Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra/Karl Münchinger
DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 0447 [79:56]

Experience Classicsonline

The works on this thrown-together-looking program span twenty years of recording sessions in a variety of venues. They are linked in representing various "ethnic" strains in music, whether directly or, in the case of Wolf's Italian Serenade, indirectly.
The luminous, transparent Suk and Wolf selections are the album's highlights. The Suk is a particular surprise - one hadn't expected the staid Münchinger to have such a feeling for its distinctive Bohemian lyrical nostalgia, or to imbue the music with so strong a profile. He finds a spacious stillness in the end of the opening Andante con moto, and draws real drama out of the transition back to the second movement's main theme. The Adagio begins with a muted, fragile lyricism, acquiring a nice ebb and flow as pizzicatos spur the music forward. The finale is propulsive while retaining a spacious beauty. Throughout the performance, resonant double-basses provide firm-bodied support.
The shafts of wind color in Wolf's Italian Serenade - the luminous oboe, the crisp flute, the warm, round horn - bring welcome timbral variety to this otherwise all-string selection. Some performances of this piece just chug along indiscriminately. Münchinger gives sufficient attention to details of phrasing and rhythm to project its underlying shape, and thus to hold the listener's interest. The basic 6/8 patterns - presumably, and not inaccurately, the score's "Italian" element - are nicely pointed. The expansive lyricism in the contrasting passages compensates for a slight loss of momentum elsewhere, and Münchinger brings real elegance to the episode with the pizzicatos at 6:09.
The early-stereo account of the Holberg Suite documents a more youthful, energetic Münchinger than the familiar purveyor of old-fashioned Brandenburg Concertos. There's a buoyancy and drive to the playing that would fade in the course of the conductor's long career. Crisp, alert rhythmic articulations propel the opening movement. The conductor shapes the bittersweet Sarabande with feeling, while bringing a lilt to the similar material of the Gavotte. The Air goes with a haunting spaciousness; the closing Rigaudon, more relaxed than in some other readings, captures an authentic Hardanger spirit. Digital tweaking has opened up what I remember as the clean but boxy sound of the London Stereo Treasury LP.
The Dvořák Serenade was always an oddity, an orphan without a proper discmate in the Decca vaults: the British LP harnessed it to a reissue of the still-recent Suk, while the performance never turned up in the USA at all. It's the odd performance in this collection, too, rather a big-boned rendering for a small orchestra, an impression reinforced by a conspicuous big-hall ambience. Münchinger's vigorous manner incorporates aggressive accentuations, demonstrative, Germanic rhetorical distensions, and awkward ritards, those last seemingly dictated by technical necessity rather than interpretive choice. And there's noticeable insecurity, especially among the inner parts. The transitional chord at 2:02 of the Scherzo is simply wrong, with a minor third instead of a major; the violins sing sweetly at the start of the Larghetto, but tentative supporting voices leave a mushy impression. Perhaps the conductor simply hadn't lived with this music long enough.
Still, for the other performances here, this is an excellent buy at a low price. The typography and proof-reading departments were both asleep at the switch: both the booklet and the endpaper give Dvořák's dates as 1913-1976, which would make him even more retrograde a composer than academia considers him already.
Stephen Francis Vasta 
























































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