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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony No.1 in C minor, Op.3 – “The Bells of Zloníce”
Nuremburg State Philharmonic/Marcus Bosch
rec. live, Meistersingerhalle Nürnberg, 16-19 2016
COVIELLO COV91718 SACD [51:09]

When I was a boy it was still a fairly common belief that Dvořák had written five symphonies. We knew No.5 as No.1 and No.9 (“From the New World”) as No.5. It took István Kertész and his fabulous Decca box set to convince me that not only had Dvořák composed nine symphonies but that the forgotten four were very fine works in their own right. I still hold the Kertész recording up as the yardstick against which all others are measured – and they usually are found wanting. Now 50 years old, the Kertész recording is widely available in its various transfers and repackagings; and it still packs the same authoritative punch.

Here we have a good contender for it in modern sound. This recording comes to us as in vivid SACD sound, and while recorded live, it is as clean, immediate and untroubled by extraneous noise as any studio recording. For those for whom sound is the prime concern, they will have few issues with this excellent release – even if, at little over 50 minutes, those who buy the physical disc will feel somewhat short-changed. Those of us whose focus is more on the music and its interpretation, the picture is far from clear-cut.

Let me say straight away that this is a wonderful exhibition of enthusiastic orchestral playing, the Nuremberg State Philharmonic clearly throwing themselves body and soul into this youthful music, and producing along the way some outstanding results. Of particular note are the horns, which bring a gloriously raw and rustic quality to music which sometimes relies on effect to overcome a certain lack of structural discipline, and the timpanist who crashes into the final movement fugue (6:34) with frighteningly explosive violence. The playing has unflagging vigour and great ebullience

Marcus Bosch pushes it all along with enormous energy, but is often too relentless and heavy-handed, making no attempt to disguise the occasional but rather obvious awkwardness in Dvořák’s writing. The gargantuan (17 minute) first movement seems to spend its entire time in a state of breathless excitement, and the small moments of repose, such as the momentary cello solo at 15:09, are all but brushed aside in the fiercely sweeping momentum. Whether or not the composer gave it the nickname “Bells of Zloníce”, Bosch certainly finds plenty of clamouring bell-like effects here, and forces them out for all their worth. I would wish that he might have relaxed a bit more for the second movement, where we feel more on the edge of our seats than we would normally expect in a movement marked “Adagio di molto”, the opening plaintive oboe melody sounding more like a wail of distress than a reflective contemplation – which is what Kertész conveys. The scampering third movement has a lovely feeling of a Bohemian folk dance as it jumps around the various sections of the orchestra, and the raw energy of the finale is splendidly conveyed; compositional warts and all.

In that the symphony is an example of youthful enthusiasm rather than mature judgement, this performance seems well suited, but I still prefer the polish and expansiveness the LSO under Kertész gave to it back in the 1960s when it really was new to our ears.

Marc Rochester



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