Dvorak: Symphonies Nos. 7 and 8 (CD review)

Marin Alsop, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.572112.

Say it ain't so, Joe.  Now even the folks at Naxos are recording things live. Well, it's not as bad as it could be, I suppose. More on that later.

Of the nine symphonies written by Czech composer Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904), his Symphony No. 7 (1885) is undoubtedly the darkest and moodiest, filled with the most emphatic opposition of forces. I wish Ms. Alsop and her Baltimore Orchestra had played it that way. Of the two performances on this disc, I much preferred her interpretation of the Eighth.

In the Symphony No. 7, the opening movement, it seems to me, should have more strength, more magisterial weight (compare Pesek, Virgin; Davis, Philips; Kertesz, Decca; or Jansons, EMI). The slow second movement goes well enough, if somewhat prosaically. The Scherzo retains its rustic charm amid some tempestuous contrasts, although, again, the conductor's approach seems a bit pedestrian and lacking the last ounce of lilt amongst the danger. Although she does bring the Finale to a suitably momentous close, it's a matter of too little too late. Frankly, I've never much cared for Dvorak's Seventh Symphony, and Ms. Alsop's recording of it does little to persuade me otherwise.

Symphony No. 8 (1889) has almost exactly the same outline and proportions as No. 7, yet Dvorak (and by extension Ms. Alsop) takes us into an entirely different world altogether. Perhaps Ms. Alsop simply feels better attuned to the more freewheeling Bohemian climate of No. 8, because she produces a reading of infinite variety and delight. Some listeners may still think it a tad too perfunctory in parts, but it flows gently and naturally from start to finish and provides a sunny, easygoing musical experience, with an appropriately rousing conclusion.

Recorded live at Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Baltimore, in 2008-09, the sound is sometimes thick and slightly clouded, especially in Symphony No. 7. Audience noise is never an issue, and, thank goodness, there is no applause. However, ultimate transparency suffers. While dynamics and frequency extremes are adequate, the midrange can seem shrouded, resulting in a big, warm, soft overall effect, with little strength or impact. At least No. 8 (recorded earlier) sounds a touch more translucent than No. 7.

A handsomely illustrated slipcover encloses the jewel box. In all, you get your money's worth at budget price with the two symphonies sharing one disc; it makes an attractive package, even if you may prefer one performance, as I did, well over the other.

JJP

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa