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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers

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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. live, Jesse H. Jones Hall for the Performing Arts, Houston, Texas, September 2015
PENTATONE PTC5186575 SACD [51:36]

Reviewed as lossless download from (mp3 and 16-bit with pdf booklet).  Also available in 16- and 24-bit sound from stream (for subscribers) or download.  Also available from dealers on SACD.

I recommended the same performers in Dvořák’s Seventh and Eighth symphonies in a recent edition of Download News (PTC5186578).  Like this new release, that featured live recordings, made in 2014 and 2015, and I rated it about equal with Sir Charles Mackerras in the same coupling on Signum and better recorded than Rafael Kubelík, still my first choice for a complete set of Dvořák’s  symphonies – review.  I was not alone in liking that recording for the sheer commitment of the direction and playing.

The same qualities are evident in this new release of No.6.  All the energy of this symphony is well conveyed and the Houston Symphony again proves that it’s worthy to be compared with the best in the world.  There’s even a degree more of the relaxation that some found slightly lacking in the earlier recording.

My colleague Brian Reinhart didn’t much like Andrés Orozco-Estrada in Berlioz but noted that he was taking over in Houston and hoped that he would ‘mature enough to bring something more to the music than the competence he already has’ – review.  For my money that’s one hope which has been proved true by these two Dvořák recordings.

I had some reservations about an earlier Pentatone recording of the Sixth Symphony, chiefly with regard to the first movement at the hands of Yakov Kreizberg with the Netherlands PO – review.  Orozco-Estrada also adopts a fairly fast tempo here but is rather more sparing of the repeats – something about which the composer himself was not very fussed – and it doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Sir Charles Mackerras with the Czech Phil on Supraphon also delivers a fast performance of this movement with, I think, slightly less attention still to repeats.  That’s available on a single CD with The Golden Spinning Wheel (SU37712) or as part of the budget-price Life with Czech Music: Smetana and Dvořák (SU40412, 6 CDs, with Symphonies 8 and 9, Slavonic Dances, both sets, Smetana’s Má Vlast, etc., around Ł33).  

For all the virtues of the new Pentatone my affection still leans towards Mackerras: just try the first few bars of the opening movement and see how much more natural Mackerras makes his touch of rubato sound.  Where Orozco-Estrada is perhaps a little too forceful, Mackerras is all sweetness and light, though the more immediate Pentatone recording may be part of the explanation.  Mackerras also caresses the music a little more in the slow movement and he’s not afraid to take his time (13:09) where Orozco-Estrada is slightly inclined to force the pace (9:50), though the difference is not as great in practice as those timings suggest.

The two Slavonic Dances make enjoyable fillers but hardly affect the picture.  If you don’t have a complete recording of both sets the Supraphon 6-CD set looks even more attractive: performances little short of those from the Cleveland Orchestra and George Szell from which I got to know them, originally on a Fontana LP. (Now on Sony SBK48161 or G010001222695T or 88697857482, all download only).

The short playing time means that the download, charged per-second at $9.26, is less expensive than the (COL) at Ł7.99, but it came in 16-bit form only when I downloaded it.  The COL is also available in 24-bit but, at Ł15.99, is dearer than the SACD.  The 16-bit sound is very good, so you may wish to think twice before paying extra for 24-bit.  On the other hand, ECL now offer 24-bit for the earlier recording, which was 16-bit only when I reviewed it, so you may wish to wait and see.

I understand that a recording of the New World Symphony will complete the set.  Competition is white-hot there but I look forward to hearing it.  In No.6 and the earlier recording of Nos. 7 and 8 Orozco-Estrada is well worth considering but I would recommend trying the alternatives, not least Mackerras in Nos. 6 and 8 (Supraphon) and Nos. 7 and 8 (Signum).

Brian Wilson

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