Though possessor of a vast, generally splendid discography, veteran José Serebrier remains a much under-valued conductor - composer too, for that matter. In these latest two volumes of his complete cycle of the Dvořák symphonies for Warner Classics, he demonstrates yet again many of the characteristics that make him such an agreeable music-maker. Easing a lovely fruity sound from the more-than-presentable Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, he keeps Dvořák's works nicely buoyant with a gentle discipline, briefly savouring the many sublime moments, never lingering too long or staying too short. Researched, attentive and level-headed, Serebrier above all lets the composer do his stuff.
In purely artistic terms, then, he and the BSO are a pretty good team - the latter not at their very best here, but still excellent in places, especially in the brass and woodwind. Not for the first time in his career, however, Serebrier is undone somewhat by under-performing engineering. Volume 3 in particular sounds almost as if it originated somewhere in south-eastern Europe, with microphones giving the impression of having been tossed rather than placed, causing uneven highlighting, and a desiccated, rather flimsy quality to the strings in particular. One international record reviewer's description of the audio quality here as "simply flawless" is frankly inscrutable. Perhaps Warner Classics took heed of listeners with more intact hearing for volume 4, as it sounds a little bit more robust - yet it is hard not to think that a label like BIS, or indeed Brilliant Classics, would have done this so much better.
On the other hand, recording quality in both instances can hardly be considered disastrous, and those happy - as many seem to be - with Decca's typically thinnish sound on István Kertész's famous cycle of the Dvořák symphonies with the London Symphony Orchestra may well find the Warner perfectly acceptable.
Notwithstanding the thrashing it has sometimes received at the hands of certain critics, Dvořák's huge Second is one of the most seriously neglected symphonies by a recognised master symphonist. True, Scherzo aside, Dvořák does not sound all that much like himself, as it were, but in general the Symphony blends pages of great excitement with others of lyrical beauty. In the trilingual booklet notes, Serebrier himself describes it as his favourite among Dvořák's symphonies and as a "masterpiece". The intensely pulsating Third's typical absence from concert programmes is even more of a mystery in a way, being for one thing a whole quarter of an hour shorter. The Sixth is relatively familiar by comparison, although many conductors ill-advisedly delete the first-movement exposition repeat. So often making the right musical choices, Serebrier preserves it to powerful effect.
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Previous review (sy. 2): Brian