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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony No. 9 in E minor Aus der Neuen Welt (From the New World) B.178, Op. 95 (1893) [43:43]
Heldenlied (A Heros Song) symphonic poem B.199, Op. 111 (1897) [20:13]
Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Andris Nelsons
rec. live, 1, 3 December 2010, Herkulessaal (Symphony), 25, 27 April 2012, Philharmonie (Heldenlied), Munich, Germany
BR KLASSIK 900116 [64:17]

It is an exciting prospect for the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, undoubtedly one of the world’s finest orchestras, to collaborate with Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons. Here is a man who is is carving out a wonderful career and was recently appointed music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from the 2014/2015 season. This exciting new BR Klassik release of two Dvořák scores is taken from separate Munich concerts: the much loved Ninth and the attractive if rather neglected A Heros Song.
 
Dvořák’s From the New World was commenced in 1893 during his trip to America. The work feels infused with the composer’s nostalgic yearnings for his Czech homeland. During his stay in America it is known that Dvořák had heard Negro spirituals and native American music. He told the Chicago Tribune that he had attempted to “portray musical characteristics that were clearly American.”
 
In this 2010 performance it feels as if the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra has established a special rapport with Nelsons. Marshalling his sections with conspicuous assurance Nelsons leads a performance of innate energy and vibrancy. It feels a notch or two above the routine standard of playing that this work often produces. I love the freshly sprung rhythms together with the remarkable passion and power of the opening movement with its deep seam of nostalgia. The haunting pathos of the captivating Largo is outstanding. It features the well known melody for the reedy cor anglais and that solo is splendidly played. Nelsons’ balancing of the orchestral textures and tempi in the ebullient Scherzo is outstanding too. The bold and forthright Finale metes out weight, power, passion and drama in a compelling mix. 

Dvořák began his A Heros Song in 1897 four years after the Ninth. The composer had become enthusiastic with the genre of the symphonic poem, describing them as orchestral ballads. A Heros Song is his fifth such work. Unlike Dvořák’s other four symphonic poems that follow a literary programme this one is thought to be an autobiographical picture of the composer in the manner of Richard Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben with which it is roughly contemporaneous. Inexplicably the score is often overlooked in the concert hall but it is by no means the only Dvořák work suffering neglect. For example I find it rare to hear a performance of the Piano Concerto. The palpable neglect of A Heros Song was demonstrated in 2005 when Sir Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker released a recording of the Dvořák Tone Poems and overlooked A Heros Song. This 2012 performance helps to redress the balance as Nelsons presides over some quite marvellous orchestral playing. In what feels like a spontaneous reading, agreeably shaped with plenty of sweep and breadth the result is highly satisfying. 

The sound quality of these live BR Klassik recordings is of the good standard that I would expect from this experienced Bavarian radio broadcaster. The symphony, recorded in the Herkulessaal, Munich, is vividly clear, however, I do have a slight reservation with A Heros Song recorded in the Philharmonie, Munich; it feels just a touch congested in the forte passages. No applause has been left in on either score.
 
Throughout these performances the well rounded Bavarian brass blaze splendidly and the unified string sound radiates an attractive bloom. Delightfully pleasing to the ear the impeccable woodwind section is kept extremely busy and deserves praise.
 
This BR Klassik disc is a triumph for Andris Nelsons and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and it is hard to imagine finer performances of these Dvořák scores.
 
Michael Cookson 

Masterwork Index: Dvorak symphony 9