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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Legends 1-10, Op. 59 (1881) [39:47]
Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op. 88 (1889) [36:51]
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/José Serebrier
rec. 24-25 February 2014, The Lighthouse, Poole, Dorset, UK
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 628787 [72:42]

Uruguayan conductor José Serebrier and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (BSO) have now reached volume 5 in their series of the Dvořák symphonies.
There's compelling playing in the opening Allegro con brio, shaped with generous rubato - colourful and joyous. I was struck by the high-spirited feel to the Slavic march section. Many accounts end the movement with tremendously loud climaxes but Serebrier’s is more about expression than wilful noise. Under Serebrier the Adagio feels like a miniature tone poem. Often celebratory in mood and sometimes pastoral the movement is consistently melodic.
Serebrier shines in the Allegretto grazioso conveying the agreeable character of a Czech waltz. In a recent recording Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestras dig deep to uncover a seam of yearning sadness. Serebrier concentrates more attentively on the movement's dance-like qualities.
In the Finale marked Allegro ma non troppo the magnificent trumpet fanfare immediately and firmly grabs the attention while the gorgeous main theme first introduced on the cellos at 0:27 is eminently stately. The impressive variations conclude with a jubilant and uplifting played coda. Serebrier might not probe as deeply as some alternative versions but throughout the accomplished playing of the well-drilled BSO just glows across a broad palette of colour.
Dvořák’s later symphonies have maintained an unyielding popularity in the concert hall as well as on record. Consequently there is plenty of choice in the catalogues. I have been enduringly satisfied with the fresh and vital 1986 account of the Eighth Symphony from the Cleveland Orchestra under Christoph von Dohnányi on Decca. Another personal favourite forms part of the beautifully played Dvořák symphonies set from the Berliner Philharmoniker under Rafael Kubelik recorded in 1966/73 on Deutsche Grammophon. Decidedly compelling on Reference Classics is the new live recording played by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under Honeck who injects a strong Czech spirit into the score ensuring both romantic warmth and dramatic thrust.
On this new Warner release a captivating performance of the Eighth rubs shoulders with the finest accounts in the catalogues. Unquestionably I will return to it often.
Contained here are all ten of Dvořák’s Legends for orchestra. They were originally written in 1881 as duets for piano four-hands. Simrock published the set and recognising the commercial potential Dvořák orchestrated them the same year for small but varied orchestral forces. Lasting here around forty-minutes the cycle contains tempo indications but no titles. Whilst these are not works that I often play the reasonably diverse and occasionally enigmatic character of these undemanding pieces add to their appeal. Under Serebrier the playing is full of sparkling warmth: sheer enjoyment.
Recorded at the Lighthouse, Poole the engineers deliver clear, direct and well balanced sound. The final volumes in this Serebrier/BSO series of complete Dvořák’s symphonies can’t come too soon.
Michael Cookson

Masterwork Index: Symphony 8