Dvorak: Symphony No. 9 (CD review)

Antal Dorati, New Philharmonia Orchestra. HDTT HDCD114.

When I first started collecting classical music seriously in the mid Sixties, I had two favorite LP's of Anton Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 in E minor, From the New World: one with Istvan Kertesz and the London Symphony and another with Antal Dorati and the New Philharmonia, both on London (Decca) Records. The performances and the recordings couldn't have been more different, Kertesz smooth, mature, and polished, Dorati more robust and volatile, with sound qualities to match each interpretation.

Anyway, when the CD era arrived in the early Eighties, London-Decca started issuing the Kertesz recording again and again, but the Dorati recording seemed to disappear. Or, if London-Decca did issue it on CD, it escaped me at the time (although I believe they finally did release it on CD in the mid Nineties, and it may still be available, at least used). So it was with great pleasure that I welcomed the release of Dorati's NPO recording of the New World Symphony from HDTT, the company that transfers older classical performances from commercially available tapes to compact disc.

Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) wrote his Symphony From the New World in 1893, a short while after the Czech composer and his family arrived in New York for a visit of several years. When he premiered the work, American audiences praised it for incorporating elements of African American and Native American cultures, characteristics making it to them purely "American" in nature. As it turns out, however, Dvorak said he tried mainly to write music of the "common man" and used primarily Slavic folk tunes vaguely familiar to his homeland. No matter, people will forever think of it as his "American" piece.

In Dorati's performance of the New World Symphony, he is not afraid of wearing his heart on his sleeve. In the first movement, he plays up the contrasts as much as anyone between the serene introduction and the wild bursts of enthusiasm that follow. Dorati seems intent on letting us know that Dvorak favored African American spirituals (a part of the Allegro section reminds some listeners of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot"), whether the composer meant to or not. Dorati keeps the beautiful Largo, with its famous English horn theme, moving forward in a fluid motion, like a gently flowing stream. (Dvorak later said he intended the melody to suggest the awakening of animals on the prairie.) The Scherzo, with its sprightly dance-like beats, scoots along in appropriately zippy fashion, with some wonderfully infectious Bohemian accents, again with Dorati emphasizing the tempo contrasts above all. Still, I think it's the finale that comes off best under the conductor's direction. It has tremendous presence and carries out Dvorak's aim to be impassioned to the letter without ever getting carried away in bombast, ending in an outburst of exultation.

Now, about HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers): You'll perhaps remember they are the folks who provide CD and download copies of older classical recordings. How can they do this, legally? Here is the way they explain it at their Web site: "All of the recordings we use for our transfers are in the public domain, which means that the public is free by law to openly use and distribute them, and have all been thoroughly researched by Government Liaison Services, Inc.  (http://www.trademarkinfo.com/ ). There are two criteria that these recordings must meet in order for us to offer them as HDTT releases: (1) the compositions must have been published before 1924 (this is why most of our transfers are from the classical genre), and (2) the recordings must have been made prior to 1972. Before 1972 the original masters were eligible for protection, but the commercial releases were not. In addition, many copyrighted works published between 1923 and 1964 would have had to have their copyrights renewed at the end of their normal 28-year terms; however, if the copyright owners failed to renew these copyrights, the works by law automatically revert to the public domain. By some estimates, as many as 95% of all copyright owners for works during this period did not renew their copyrights for one reason or another, and so these recordings are now also in the public domain."

In the case of the New World Symphony, HDTT transferred the sound from a London Phase Four 4-track tape, recorded in 1966. Due to the nature of the Phase Four process, the sonics appear fairly compartmentalized, yet they are wonderfully open, moderately close, and well detailed. The dynamic range is wide and the overall response quite smooth. The higher registers can be a tad aggressive at times, but it is never harsh, and one may notice some slight background noise during quieter passages, a normal circumstance of older recordings. Also, because of the multi-miking used, there is more information to the left and right than in the center; still, it never creates a hole-in-the-middle effect.

Would this newly reissued Dorati recording now displace my favored Kertesz? No, even though Dorati's reading, in its greater abandon, does remind me of Kertesz's own, earlier recording of the Ninth with the Vienna Philharmonic. Nevertheless, while the sound of this remastered Dorati disc is not quite as transparent as some other HDTT transfers I've heard, it is remarkably good and easily competes with any new recording on the market. In fact, this Dorati recording makes both Kertesz recordings (VPO and LSO) sound a trifle muffled by comparison. More important, it's a delight to have this Dorati performance available again in so fine a form.

For further information on HDTT products, you can check out their Web site at http://www.highdeftapetransfers.com/storefront.php.

JJP

2 comments:

  1. John, have you heard the Vienna PO Kertesz recording of the Dvorak 9? Very dynamic, robust, and volatile. Love that recording.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yes, thank you, flyingdutchman. Kertesz's earlier VPO recording is excellent, in some ways even better than his later LSO account. I was always esp. impressed by the dynamic sound on the VPO vinyl disc, but it never seemed to translate well onto the CD. Whatever, I long ago listed both of Kertesz's offerings in my recommended recordings, top left.

    ReplyDelete

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.

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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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Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa