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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, Philharmonie im Gasteig (live Dvořák); 25 January 2016 Philharmonie (studio Suk), Munich
BR KLASSIK 900145 [73:14]

On this BR Klassik release the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks under chief conductor Mariss Jansons has ventured into the Bohemia region of the Czech Republic with the music of Antonín Dvořák and Josef Suk.

The feature work is Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8 written quickly in 1889 at his country residence Vysoká, Příbrami in Bohemia. Dvořák was a having a dispute with his usual publisher Simrock so the work was published by the London firm of Novello, who wanted to give the Eighth Symphony the name ‘EnglishSymphony. Compared to the dramatic, rather serious tone of the Seventh Symphony the Eighth probably reflects the peace and tranquillity of the composer’s country residence. It can be regarded as the most Czech in conception, style and character with melodies influenced by impressions of the natural world flowing easily to the composer’s pen. It was the composer himself who premičred the score in 1890 in Prague to a mixed reception. Recently maestro Manfred Honeck described the Eighth Symphony as “a special jewel” in the repertoire.

With such engaging playing of the charming melodies in the opening movement Jansons’s Bavarian players supply a fresh outdoor feel to the writing. There is an exuberant feel to the Slavic march section and the movement ends with a huge draft of sound. Often celebratory in mood and sometimes pastoral in feel under Jansons the Adagio movement feels like a miniature tone poem with a cascading stream of captivating melody. Here the music might easily evoke a river journey, maybe on the Vltava, complete with changing scenery and weather conditions. Jansons revels in rhythms of the Allegretto grazioso with its joyous writing containing the delightful character of a Czech waltz. Conversely maestro Honeck in a recent recording with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestras convincingly reveals an undertow of yearning sadness. In the Finale the magnificent trumpet fanfare immediately and firmly grabs the attention. Following on, the set of variations sounds impressive, concluding with a jubilantly played Coda that leaves behind an extremely uplifting feel. Throughout the score Jansons and his Bavarian players successful inject a strong Bohemian spirit into the score ensuring Romantic warmth and considerable expression.

Dvořák’s later symphonies have an unyielding popularity in the concert hall as well as on record; consequently there is considerable choice in the catalogue. In the Eighth Symphony an extremely engaging is the recently released live 2014 recording from the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under Manfred Honeck on Reference Recordings. Another personal favourite that I find wholly satisfying is the fresh and vital 1986 account from the Cleveland Orchestra under the baton of Christoph von Dohnányi on Decca. In addition I relish the reading from Rafael Kubelik with the Berliner Philharmoniker, part of his beautifully played and highly recommendable set of the complete Dvořák symphonies recorded in 1966/73 on Deutsche Grammophon. There may be more overtly passionate and forceful accounts of the Eighth Symphony yet none as stylish and few as captivating as this from Jansons on BR Klassik.

In 1891 Dvořák under a collective name of Nature, Life and Love wrote a cycle of three concert overtures. Later he split them into stand-alone works newly titled as Nature’s Realm, Othello and Carnival. As recorded here Carnival certainly evokes a joyous city festival in the evening, with people singing, drinking and dancing. Under Jansons’s baton the Bavarian orchestra displays considerable spirit and buoyancy rejoicing in the brilliance of this celebratory music.

Suk, who some years later married Dvořák’s daughter Otylke, was an eighteen year old student when he wrote his Serenade for Strings in 1892. This stylish and effective score shows its debt to Dvořák’s own Serenade for Strings of 1875. In the string orchestra repertoire, Suk’s work is a valuable if rather neglected work. Noticeable in the opening movement is the stylish folk infused writing followed by a Scherzo containing an elegantly played waltz marked by melting and delightful melodies. In the soothing Adagio Jansons uncovers an undertow of melancholy that feels like the pain of parting. Jansons calls for buoyancy in the assertive Finale providing high spirits in its extrovert Vivace conclusion.

A helpful essay in the accompanying booklet provides the essential information. With the Dvořák works recorded live in concert and Suk in the Studio the sound engineers for BR Klassik excel in providing excellent clarity and satisfying balance.

Michael Cookson

Previous review: Dan Morgan



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