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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony No.3 in E-flat, Op.10 (1873) [34:41]
Symphony No.4 in d minor, Op.13 (1874) [39:34]
Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken Kaiserslautern/Karel Mark Chichon
rec. Congresshalle, Saarbrücken, 16-19 March, 1-3 June 2015. DDD
SWR MUSIC SWR19009CD [74:23]

My thoughts on this recording were drafted some time ago but I hadn’t got round to fleshing them out. In the event Nick Barnard has got in ahead with an appreciative review of Volumes 2 and 3 and we’re so closely in agreement that I’ve pruned what I was about to write.

This is the third volume in Karel Mark Chichon’s recordings of the Dvořák Symphonies. The first appeared on Hänssler (93.330: Symphony No.1; Rhapsody, Op14 – review Download News 2015/4 ) and the second, like this, on SWR’s own label (93.344: Symphony No.5 [40:12]; In Nature’s Realm [14:52]; Scherzo Capriccioso [12:02]). That recording was made in the Congresshalle, Saarbrücken, in March and April 2014 and the total time is 67:23.

At the time of drafting this review we hadn’t reported on Volume 2, so I dealt with it first, having downloaded it in lossless sound, with pdf booklet, from I’ve lost count of how many recordings of Symphony No.5 I’ve heard – even more so in the case of the two couplings. Without trying to make detailed comparisons with them all, these performances from the Deutsche Philharmonie demonstrate yet again that you don’t have to have a Czech conductor or orchestra to deliver first-rate Dvořák. Only the fact that it’s available at budget price on Double Decca, offering the same coupling plus Symphonies Nos. 4 and 6 and Carnival Overture would make me lean towards the LSO and István Kertész (4737892).

Bargain hunters should also consider a Decca Eloquence 2-CD set, again from the LSO and Kertész, of Symphonies Nos. 5, 7, 8 and 9 (4674722) or a Naxos coupling of Nos. 5 and 7 (Slovak PO/Stephan Gunzenhauser, 8.550270). Price apart, the quality of playing, direction and recording on SWR has nothing to fear from any of these.

In Nature’s Realm is such a beautiful work – almost visionary in nature – and it receives such a wonderful performance here that it almost seems like an act of iconoclasm when the jaunty Scherzo Capriccioso follows it. The only recording that captures the mood even better then Chichon comes from Sir Charles Mackerras on a highly recommended 6-CD set of Smetana ( Má Vlast) and Dvořák (Symphonies Nos. 6, 8, 9, Slavonic Dances, etc.) from Supraphon (My Life in Czech Music, SU40412 – Download Roundup 2013/10 )

Like their two predecessors, Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4 were not published until 1911, after the composer’s death, and for a long time they were not numbered with his five published symphonies, so that for many years the New World Symphony was known as No. 9 (5)1. Though these early works are hardly in the same league as Nos. 7, 8 and 9, I’m glad that they were preserved: they contain some tuneful music which I first got to know many years ago from Supraphon recordings, some of which remain available as downloads. It’s fortunate that though Dvořák disowned them he didn’t destroy them and it’s something of an injustice that the last edition of the Gramophone Guide (2012) didn’t list any single-disc recordings of any symphonies earlier than No.5.

Though even No.1, the oddly named Bells of Zlonice has its merits, both Nos. 3 and 4 demonstrate advances in technique over their predecessors and both show signs of the composer’s early echoes of Wagner: No.4 with its quotation from Tannhäuser in the slow movement, his last such homage, is a particular favourite of mine.

Apart from the very fine classic complete sets by István Kertész (Decca) 2, Witold Rowicki (Decca, formerly Phillips), Vaclav Neumann (Supraphon) and Rafael Kubelík (DG) and the more recent sets from Neeme Järvi (Chandos) and Jiří Bělohlávek (Decca), no current single CD couples Nos. 3 and 4 and if you would like them together you certainly won’t go wrong with the new SWR recording.

It was the premičre of the Third Symphony in Prague in 1874 that prompted the eminent Eduard Hanslick to bring Dvořák to the attention of Brahms, his supporter and later his friend. As with its predecessors it could have benefited from being slightly more succinct but Karel Mark Chichon – a British conductor despite his name – and his Saarbrücken orchestra make a strong case for it even against recordings by Neeme Järvi and the SNO (CHAN8575, with Carnival and Symphonic Variations) and the very decent budget Naxos from Stephen Gunzenhauser and the Slovak PO (8.550268, with Symphony No.6).

The voice of the mature composer is heard more clearly in No.4: from the opening the first movement is unmistakeably Dvořákian with its interplay of two themes. Even his toying with Wagner in the slow movement is subsumed into a personal statement. Once again among single-CD versions it’s Neeme Järvi and the SNO who provide my comparison, though their coupling of the ten Biblical Songs (CHAN8608) may be less appealing than Chichon’s Third Symphony. Gunzenhauser couples a less convincing account of No.8, though the bargain price and the fact that you may also have a better version of No.8 may mitigate that. (Naxos 8.550269).

Chichon takes the first movement faster than Järvi or Libor Pešek (Supraphon, with the Czech Philharmonic) but slightly more slowly than Gunzenhauser. Much as I like those other performances, it’s Chichon who gets closest to the heart of this movement for me. In the other movements, tempi in all three recordings are pretty well in agreement. Overall, while Chichon persuades me that it would have been a loss if No.3 had not been published, he convinces me that No.4 is fully worthy to be ranked with the works which Dvořák didn’t disown.

Nick Barnard ends with the statement that he is looking forward to further instalments in this series. I’m completely with him in that regard.

1 Chaos still reigns in some quarters. Two recordings listed as ‘No.4’ on are actually of Op.88, Symphony No.8. Whoever transcribed the LPs of these performances by Szell and Giulini simply used the number prevailing when they were recorded.

2 All Kertész’s recordings of Dvořák with the LSO, Symphonies 1-9, various overtures and tone poems and the Requiem, have been released in a limited 9-CD plus blu-ray audio set, advertised for as little as Ł42 (Decca 4830744). It’s a tempting bargain but I wonder why the record companies still bother to include CDs with blu-ray audio: far better and less bulky just to offer the blu-ray, as in the case of the Solti Ring: Recording of the Month – review .

Brian Wilson

Previous review: Nick Barnard


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