Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op. 88 (1889) [37:44]
Josef SUK (1875-1935)
Serenade for Strings in E flat major, Op. 6 (1892) [25:43]
Antonín DVOŘÁK
Carnival overture (1891) [9:45]
Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Mariss Jansons
rec. 29-30 January 2016 (live, Dvořák); 25 January, 2016 (studio, Suk), Philharmonie im Gasteig, Munich
BR KLASSIK 900145 [73:14]

This is the second recording by Mariss Jansons of Dvořák’s Eighth Symphony. The previous release coupled it with the Dvořák Requiem in live Amsterdam performances (RCO Live RCO 10001). I’ve not heard that set but I have heard Jansons before in Dvořák: only recently I was seriously impressed with his account of the Stabat Mater, recorded in concert in March 2015 (review).

On this CD the three works are ordered as above and there’s logic in that: the Carnival overture makes an exciting conclusion to what is, in effect, a concert of Czech music. My preferred ordering was to play the overture first, followed by the Suk and thus to let the symphony bring proceedings to a close.

Carnival is a splendid opener to any concert and it certainly lives up to that billing. Most of the time the performance brings out all the vibrancy and joie de vivre of Dvořák’s writing but the Andante con moto is exquisitely done. Overall, this is a super version.

The inclusion of Suk’s delectable Serenade is highly appropriate for he was Dvořák’s favoured pupil and became his son-in-law. Suk was just 18 when he wrote it in 1892 and he’d only completed his violin and composition studies the previous year. It may be an early work but the writing is tremendously accomplished and it bespeaks already expert knowledge of stringed instruments. It’s surely no coincidence that in the same year as he composed this work Suk began a forty-year career as a violinist in the Czech String Quartet. In the opening Andante con moto the sophistication of the Bavarian strings is readily apparent. This is delightful music and they do it proud under Jansons’ guidance. The principal impression is one of geniality but there’s also feeling.

In the second movement the main waltz material is elegantly done while the trio is suitably taut. I love the wistful, gentle melancholy of the Adagio; in this outstanding performance we hear it delivered with refinement and subtlety. The finale is predominantly happy although there is a thoughtful episode along the way. This is a vibrant reading, setting the seal on a richly rewarding Serenade.

I enjoyed Jansons’ account of Dvořák’s Eighth. Its appealing lyricism comes through in a very fine performance. For example in the first movement every time we hear the wonderful cello and horn theme, with which the symphony begins, the music sounds burnished and relaxed. That said, Rafael Kubelik seems to find just that little bit extra in the theme, though without any contrivance, in his 1966 recording with the Berlin Philharmonic (DG). By contrast, Manfred Honeck, though very interesting and thoughtful, is perhaps a little too interventionist here (review). During this movement Jansons imparts a nice open-air feel to the music and that I like very much. I like just as much the urgency that he brings to parts of the development section.

Dvořák’s slow movement is, perhaps, structurally rather loose but who could resist the winning nature of the music? Jansons and his orchestra are in their element here. The playing is full of refinement, especially in the quiet passages, and I admire very much the way dynamic contrasts are used to maximise the music’s impact. Jansons find real grace in the third movement’s wistful waltz. I think he gets the tempo just right whereas Honeck is just a fraction too swift. However, I think Jansons has to yield here to Sir Charles Mackerras; he offers something rather special with his smiling, eye-twinkling account (review). Jansons ensures that the trio lilts delightfully and the delicate way in which he manages the return to the waltz is quite magical. He leads an ebullient performance of the quasi-variations finale. Ebullient it may be but there’s room, too, for delicacy and finesse in the quieter passages, such as the episode from 6:22 to 9:02. The passage in question comes just before Jansons spurs his orchestra along in a final dash for the finish line, the horns exultant. No wonder the audience cheers at the end.

This disc contains three very fine performances and I thoroughly enjoyed it all. The BR Klassik recording is very good indeed. I’ve come to expect clarity and very pleasing, natural sound from this label and this latest disc is another excellent example of their work. There’s applause after each of the Dvořák pieces, though not after the Suk Serenade

John Quinn

Previous reviews: Michael Cookson ~  Dan Morgan

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