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Antonin DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony No.6 in D, Op.60, B112 (1880) [43:19]
Slavonic Dance Op.72, B147/3 [3:39]
Slavonic Dance Op.46, B83/8 [4:28]
Houston Symphony/Andrés Orozco-Estrada
rec. Jesse H. Jones Hall for the Performing Arts, Houston, Texas, September 2015
PENTATONE PTC5186575 SACD [51:36]

Andrés Orozco-Estrada became Music Director of the Houston Symphony at the start of the 2014/15 season. They’ve already issued a pairing of Dvořák’s Seventh and Eighth symphonies which Brian Wilson welcomed with enthusiasm as a download earlier this year (review). I’ve not heard those recordings so I was eager to hear the successor issue in the series. The previous release apparently featured live recordings. It’s not entirely clear to me if that’s the case with this release but if an audience was present then all I can say is that the Texan music lovers are commendably silent – and considerate of others - which is not something you can take for granted these days.

The anonymous booklet note is pretty brief but does make one important point: Dvořák’s last three symphonies are firm fixtures in the repertoire but the Sixth is no less furnished with “lyricism, warmth and exuberance.” It’s a mystery to me why it’s not as celebrated and valued as are its three successors in the Dvořák symphonic canon.

I enjoyed this performance very much indeed. For a comparison I turned to Rafael Kubelik, one of my “go-to” conductors in Dvořák – another is Sir Charles Mackerras but I don’t have his recording of the work. Comparing Kubelik’s excellent 1972 DG recording with the Berliner Philharmoniker I found that the principal difference was that, in general terms, Kubelik is inclined to take a slightly more expansive view than Orozco-Estrada does. I should hasten to say, though, that at no time did I feel that the Colombian conductor rushes the music – still less his fences – and I found myself thoroughly persuaded by his view of the symphony.

Some commentators have remarked on similarities between this symphony and the Second Symphony (1877) of Brahms – not a bad model. It seems to me that the influence of that wonderful work can be glimpsed most clearly in Dvořák’s first movement though the Czech composer’s own spirit and accent come through strongly, not least in the woodwind writing. Orozco-Estrada achieves a highly persuasive flow; he and his players make the music sound very fresh. Kubelik is a fraction more leisurely in his approach – in his hands the music really breathes. However, there’s no undue haste in the Houston performance and I find this newcomer most attractive.

In the second movement, once again, Kubelik is somewhat broader and some may feel that his core tempo is closer to the composer’s Adagio marking. By comparison Orozco-Estrada is rather more flowing and I’m persuaded – easily persuaded, in fact. The lyrical lines sing out and Orozco-Estrada shapes the performance with care and affection. He brings excellent energy and vivacity to the third movement; here the Furiant rhythms are excitingly done. The trio is engagingly played. When heard after the new performance Kubelik’s treatment of the Furiant seems just a little too deliberate, which was a surprise. The finale is joyful and exuberant in Orozco-Estrada’s hands. Once again we find Kubelik a touch more relaxed though excitement is not lacking. However, there’s even more joie de vivre in Houston and I think this version wins the palm on account of its ebullient energy.

The Kubelik recording was made in 1972 in the Jesus-Christus Kirche in Berlin Dahlem. It still does the performance justice but, inevitably, it has to yield to the far greater depth, richness and impact of the Pentatone sound

If I had to criticise this new release it would be on account of the ungenerous playing time. The two Slavonic Dances are nicely done but constitute decidedly short measure. It would have been good if Orozco-Estrada had offered a more substantial coupling such as the Symphonic Variations, the Scherzo capriccioso or one of the late tone poems.

That said, anyone who invests in this SACD for the symphony is unlikely to be disappointed. The interpretation is wholly convincing, the playing of the Houston Symphony is very fine and the Pentatone recording is fully up to this label’s very high standards. Dvořák’s Sixth is a completely winning score and Andrés Orozco-Estrada offers a fine performance of it.

John Quinn

Previous review: Brian Wilson



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