Antonin DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony No.6 in D, Op.60 [36:09]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Symphony No.1 in B flat, Op.38 Spring [27:24]
Cleveland Orchestra/Erich Leinsdorf
rec. February 1946, Severance Hall, Cleveland
OPUS KURA OPK7075 [64:07]
In 1943 Erich Leinsdorf (1912-1993) was appointed Music Director of the Cleveland Orchestra. It was to be the briefest of tenures lasting for just three years. The year before he had taken American citizenship, and the Cleveland appointment more or less coincided with his being drafted into the United States Armed Forces, as the country was then at war. When he was discharged after only eight months, the orchestra decided not to renew his contract, so he never really had a chance to make his mark. He eventually returned to the Met. His entire Cleveland discography was inscribed over a period of three days in February 1946. Besides the two works we have here he also set down, amongst other things, Rimsky-Korsakov's Antar Symphony, and the suite from Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande in his own arrangement.
If I had to name my two favourite Dvořák symphonies, I would have to say the fifth and this one. Leinsdorf can claim the first American recording of Dvořák's Sixth Symphony. It’s a work that oozes infectious melody although it does also have its more muscular moments. The opening movement has all of these ingredients in plentiful supply, and this performance more than savours them. Briskly paced, its forward momentum gives a sense of urgency. The slow movement, here deployed with rarified expressiveness, isn’t short on poetic insight and emotional sweep. The cross-rhythms of the Scherzo have rhythmic punch and bite, peppered with Slavonic flavour, whilst the finale is uplifting, with a surfeit of zest, thrill and excitement. Leinsdorf was to re-record the work in the 1960s with the Boston Symphony for RCA but, as far as I know, it has never found its way onto silver disc, and I’ve never heard it to offer a comparison.
The reading of the Spring Symphony truly lives up to the composer’s epithet that it was "Born in a fiery hour". After the introduction, the first movement’s Allegro molto vivace is fleet of foot, strikingly direct and exhilarating. Like Furtwängler and Szell, other versions I’m acquainted with, Leinsdorf omits the exposition repeat. Bernstein and the VPO, my favourite version doesn’t, giving the movement a better overall balance. That said, this 1946 traversal has verve, vigour and vitality. The Larghetto is tender and seductive, and Leinsdorf’s expressive shaping of the phrases adds to its allure. The Scherzo is robust, and the two trios’ light-footed approach make an appealing contrast. In the finale there’s some life-affirming playing, convivial, animated and affable.
Devotees of the conductor will be delighted that these recordings have been restored to the catalogue. As far as I can ascertain this is their first appearance on CD. Sourced from fine US-Columbia LPs, the transfers by K. Yasuhara are vivid and fresh; I could just detect two brief moments of sonic distortion in the slow movement of the Schumann. An excellent biographical portrait of the conductor is supplied by Gary Lemco in English.