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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony No. 9 in e minor, Op. 95/B.178 (1893) [42:38]
Česka suita (Czech Suite), Op. 39/B.93 (1879) [23:14]
Můj domov (My Home), Overture, Op. 62/B.125a (1882) [9:28]
Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra/Claus Peter Flor
rec. August 2009 and September 2010, Dewan Filharmonic PETRONAS, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
BIS-SACD-1856 [76:35]

This release has already appeared in the Brian Wilson’s excellent Download Roundup, November edition. He mentioned there that “well-publicised problems mean that this may be not only their last Dvořák recording but their last ever.” I’m not sure about the recording schedule but at least the MPO website seems to indicate continuing activity in 2013, so it’s a question of ‘watch this space’, which alas is the situation for numerous orchestras at present.
 
Brian has Rafael Kubelík as his all-time favourite, and most of you will have one or more recordings for which you have a special affection. One of the ones I’ve aired most over the years is that with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra under Vaclav Neumann on the Supraphon label, the character of those Czech winds being irresistible to my mind. Kubelík is technically better with the Berlin Philharmonic I admit, and Neumann tends to be softer edged in general, but more pungency and less polish is no bad thing in my book. There are just too many recordings of this work to list, but one of the more recent versions which impressed has been that with Marin Alsop conducting the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra on the Naxos label (see review).
 
As the third of BIS’s Dvořák releases from the Malaysian PO and Claus Peter Flor this will be one for collectors of the series, and I can guarantee it doesn’t disappoint on any level. I’m coming to these for the first time with this ‘New World’ symphony and am tempted to acquire the other discs retrospectively, so that’s an instant recommendation to start with. I love the orchestra’s clean sound and rich resonance, the strings are silky smooth, winds musical and tastefully stylish in terms of vibrato, the brass superbly tuned and powerful where power is demanded. I have no issues with the first movement, which balances exciting urgency against detail and refined playing in a pretty faultless manner.
 
The famous Largo is another fine movement, the opening brass chords a welcoming bath of sound, the cor anglais solo and lyrical orchestra slowing down time and recreating a lost past of pioneering simplicity. Flor gets his strings to dig deep in articulating the tumult of the Scherzo, the triangle in full cry perhaps a touch over-prominent but genuinely spectacular in surround-sound mode. The clarity of Dvořák’s ‘musical postcard’ From the New World comes across with startling lucidity here, with wide landscapes, wagon trains and frill-skirted dancing - or whatever your associations, all conjured with emphatic directness. The Allegro con fuoco finale has plenty of weight and is imposingly impressive, inner detail captured as well as that sometimes overwhelming mass of orchestral sound.
 
Having already declared my taste for Czech orchestral flavor, I imagine you can probably anticipate my only point of criticism with this recording - and it’s not really a criticism. The playing on this recording is world class by any standard and is by no means without character. The final result is however of an ‘international’ nature which rivals but could also morph into any number of leading orchestras we hear today. This is true all over the world and is by no means a negative point about the Malaysian PO. We can lament all we want about the homogenous and interchangeable nature of orchestras these days, but to my ears even the later Czech PO recording under Jiří Bělohlávek on Supraphon is just a degree or two more involving and inspiring than Flor - less impressive as a recording, but obtaining a different ‘soul’ from somewhere which tickles my mid-European radar in a way no-one else can.
 
You can take or leave all this subjective comment and rest assured that this is a New World Symphony which delivers and will continue to deliver a socking good performance every time. TheČeska suita makes for a substantial coupling, the MPO responding with lively good humour to Dvořák’s portrait of his home country. I’m ever bewildered as to why CDs are programmed with overtures as a final track rather than a curtain-raiser, but Můj domov is a fine piece, the composer’s typical national rhythms and healthy energy mixed with some craggy Beethovenian influences.
 
I’ve enjoyed this recording tremendously, and if you are looking for a top-notch SACD recording of Dvořák’s deservedly popular Symphony No. 9 then you won’t go wrong here. It only remains for me to put the other volumes on my ‘wish list’ and see who takes the hint.
 
Dominy Clements