Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony No. 9 in E minor Op.95 [40.49]
Jan NOVÁK (1921-1984)
Philharmonic Dances (1957) [18.13]
Frederick DELIUS (1863-1934)
Irmelin Prelude [5.13]
La Calinda (Koanga) [4.10]
Brno Philharmonic Orchestra/Jiří Waldhans
rec. live, Royal Festival Hall, London, 22 October 1966
ORCHESTRAL CONCERT CDS CD1/2008 [68.45]
One has to ask if we really need another recording of From the New World. After listening to this lovely performance I am happy to say the answer is an emphatic yes. Particularly, we need this one, despite the bronchitic audience (mostly restrained during the music but launching positive fusillades of coughing in between). The opportunities for drama are fully taken, with the timpanist playing fit to bust. The glorious melodies are played with such intensity that they sound even more beautiful than usual: full marks to the oboe and cor anglais players especially. The BPO must have played this masterwork more times than most orchestras but nothing sounds tired or bland. It all seems to matter, and that is a characteristic that itself matters in orchestral performance. I have long had a soft spot for Wolfgang Sawallisch's 1960 EMI recording with our own Philharmonia Orchestra, a classic that seems never to have been released on silver disc or as a download. This will do very well as its companion on my shelves, along with the other seven versions accumulated over the years.
Jan Novák's Philharmonic Dances, Choreć Philharmonicć, are another issue entirely. When this recording was made they were just nine years old and thus unknown. Now in 2018 they are fifty-four years old and not only are they still unknown but this appears to be their only recorded performance. In addition the composer, a pupil of Martinů and now dead, remains a largely obscure figure. On the strength of these three orchestral dances he should be heard. These would go down a storm at the Proms and I am a little amazed they are so good and yet never since recorded. On the bright side, this performance is lively, almost raucous, and hugely accomplished. Combined with a fine recording, this is eighteen minutes of essential listening for anyone who likes Martinů, Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances or even those from Bernstein's West Side Story! Please Jakub Hrůša, will you programme these in London asap?
The fillers must have been a nod to this 1966 UK tour, for Delius cannot have been in the Brno orchestra's regular repertoire. They make a fine job of both short items, La Calinda is such a delight, but in a sense this is a few unnecessary minutes compared to the uniqueness of the Novák and the wonderful quality of the Dvorak New World.
The recordings are very good indeed, it is not at all difficult to imagine oneself in the Royal Festival Hall about eight to ten rows back. The sound is rich, detailed and a credit to producer, engineer and all round man-in-charge Geoffrey Terry.
Previous reviews: Jonathan Woolf ~ Paul Serotsky