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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Slavonic Dance in G minor, Op. 46, No. 8 (1878) [4:35]
Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Op. 70 (1884-5) [36:45]
In Nature's Realm, Op. 91 (1892) [14:59]
Scherzo capriccioso, Op. 66 (1883) [15:34]
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/José Serebrier
rec. Lighthouse, Poole Arts Center, Poole, Dorset, 2011
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 666562 [72:06]

José Serebrier plays the D minor Symphony with a drive, a clarity and a basic integrity of tempo that suggests what Toscanini might have done with the piece, had he played it. Yet he avoids rigidity, encouraging the players to "sing" the lyrical themes fervently, allowing for breathing time within the basic pulse. The conductor also takes care to keep the sonority "open", never letting the textures thicken. The turbulent passages of the second and fourth movements generate drama with pointed articulation and meticulous balancing, rather than by sheer noise.

The first movement begins tautly, but then takes time to settle. In the bridge passage at 1:24, horn and oboe don't immediately agree on the pace. The agogic at 1:50, smudging the pickups, is distracting, and the second theme, while lovely, could be more tender. By the development, however, the performance has become gripping and dramatic, executed with a unity of intent. In the coda, Serebrier starts the traditional, though unmarked, acceleration a bit earlier than customary.

The other three movements register strongly. The Poco adagio projects suspense and power, in turn, along with a singing line. In the dancing Scherzo, the counter-theme sings out nicely, and the tuttis are splendidly proportioned and controlled. Finally, Serebrier's rendition of the Finale is, simply, one of the most joyous I've heard, the prevailing minor keys notwithstanding.

Of the generous makeweights, the best is In Nature's Realm, comparatively neglected next to Othello and Carnival, its two companions in the "Nature, Life, and Love" trilogy. Serebrier's shapely rendition should help redress that imbalance. The tempo of the Slavonic Dance that opens the program feels held-in, though it allows the "after-beat" quality of the little counter-theme to register.

The opening of the Scherzo capriccioso feels similarly held back — another, heavy-footed agogic into the first theme doesn't help — but the pace gradually picks up, section by section, and the second theme is lilting. In the calm central episode, the English horn is pensive, almost prayerful. The percussion make a cheerful racket — the good way — at the climaxes.

The Bournemouth orchestra plays smartly. The horns, singly and as a choir, offer full-throated lyricism, sounding especially plangent in the fading first-movement coda. The perky woodwind solos evoke a rustic "nature play". Serebrier's attention to clarity ensures a vivid interplay of colours.

The sound is full-bodied. There's a generous ambience around the tuttis of the Scherzo capriccioso that I didn't really notice elsewhere. In the symphony, the Poco adagio begins attacca after the first movement: perhaps the conductor's choice, perhaps an editing slip.

I understand that Serebrier has recorded all of Dvořák's symphonies for Warner Classics; now, I'm particularly looking forward to hearing what he does with the four early symphonies.

Stephen Francis Vasta
Stephen Francis Vasta is a New York-based conductor, coach, and journalist.