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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op. 88 (1890) [36:50]
The Golden Spinning Wheel, Op. 109 (1896) [27:02]
Scherzo Capriccioso, Op. 66 (1883) [14:36]
Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra/Claus Peter Flor
rec. Dewan Philharmonic, Petronas, September 2010 ( The Golden Spinning Wheel, Scherzo Capriccioso), July 2011 (Symphony No. 8)
BIS BIS-SACD-1976 [79:28]

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Dvořák's Symphony No. 8 has a particularly Czech character, while at the same time possessing that full symphonic mastery that the composer derived from his hero Brahms. The music characterises Dvořák's unique personality more completely than any of his other symphonies. This is particularly because of the nature of the themes. It is after all a gloriously tuneful work, something which is felt from the very first bar.
This is Claus Peter Flor’s second recording of the symphony. He first recorded it more than twenty years ago, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in 1989 (RCA 60234-2-RC), an issue which conveyed his love and understanding of the score readily enough. In that sense nothing has changed since. This new performance from Flor’s present orchestra is both idiomatic and dramatic, as befits the music.
The relationship between BIS and this relatively new orchestra (founded in 1997) has been a valuable one, as shown for example by the splendid recording of Rimsky-Korsakov Suites with the previous principal conductor, Kees Bakels (BIS-CD-1577: review). Flor benefits too from the excellent recorded sound, captured with utmost subtlety in the state-of-the-art Petronas Hall at Kuala Lumpur. The orchestral playing is absolutely first class, of a standard to match famous ensembles from Europe or America.
As far as the performances are concerned, the feeling given is that the conductor puts a higher priority on symphonic rigour in Symphony No. 8 than upon Czech national character. Nothing wrong with that as an approach since the music can be played either way, but there is more warmth to be found than this performance conveys. There is drama aplenty, however, and the galvanizing fanfares of the finale set in motion a very powerful account of the finale that still finds time to enjoy the idyllic variations of the second half, before sweeping through to the conclusion.
The couplings are imaginatively chosen. Dvořák's Scherzo Capriccioso and his symphonic poems are less celebrated than they might be. Like Chandos in their excellent Dvořák recordings with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (symphonies CHAN9991, symphonic poems: CHAN241-3), BIS have opted to extend the repertoire beyond the symphonic mainstream. In the narrative-style symphonic poem Zlaty Kolovrat (The Golden Spinning Wheel), the performance is fresh and direct, even if slightly wanting in atmosphere. The ebullient Scherzo Capriccioso shows off the virtuosity of the Malaysian orchestra to splendid effect. If this new issue is by no means a first choice in this repertoire, the music does sound well and the performances are striking and well worth hearing.
Terry Barfoot 

Masterwork Index: Dvořák Symphony 8

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