Dvorak: Symphony No. 9 (CD review)

Also, Symphonic Variations. Marin Alsop, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.570714.

It's hard not to like Dvorak's final symphony, and because of its popularity as one of the most-beloved pieces of music in the world, the listener has a wide choice of recordings and interpretations from which to choose. Certainly, Marin Alsop's recording for Naxos with her Baltimore Symphony Orchestra must rank among the top contenders.

Czech composer Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) wrote his ninth and final symphony, "From the New World," in 1893 while on a five-year stay in America as the director of the National Conservatory of Music. In the symphony, the composer combined elements of Native-American and African-American cultures, along with influences from his own Bohemian background, producing a classic that many people cherish among the best musical compositions ever created.  

One can hardly knock any part of Ms. Alsop's reading. The opening movement has verve and snap. In the following Largo I can't remember hearing the cor anglais sounding more mournful. The Scherzo sparkles, and as its Molto vivace marking indicates, it has appropriate vivaciousness. Lastly, the Finale thunders to a close with great impact and high good spirits. All very nice. There are moments of transition that one might have hoped would be smoother, but overall it's a most satisfying performance.

Two other quibbles, though. First, the sound is a mite thick for my tastes. The coupling includes Dvorak's early Symphonic Variations, which because of their lighter scoring come off sounding more transparent. Second, the Naxos budget discs are creeping up in price, and a person can buy Istvan Kertesz's superb LSO versions of Dvorak's Eighth and Ninth Symphonies (1966 and 1963, respectively) coupled on a mid-price Decca Originals CD for just a few dollars more than the Naxos release. The Kertesz disc would be my number-one recommendation in these works regardless of price, so the Alsop Naxos recording definitely has tough competition.

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