Dvorak: Symphony No. 6 (CD review)

Also, Nocturne in B major; Scherzo capriccioso. Marin Alsop, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.  Naxos 8.570995.

Maestro Marin Alsop and her Baltimore Symphony Orchestra continue their cycle of Dvorak's nine symphonies, apparently working their way backward, as they had already released Symphonies Nos. 7, 8, and 9 before now issuing No. 6. So far, Ms. Alsop has given us fine recordings of the Eighth and Ninth, although I didn't care as much for her reading the Seventh.

Czech composer Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) premiered his Symphony No. 6 in D major, Op. 60, in 1881, after some resistance in Vienna, where he had intended for it to make its initial appearance. It's a delightful composition and one of the man's most-charming works.

The opening movement is sunny and bright, with a pleasantly memorable central theme. Ms. Alsop plays it lightly but not frivolously, maintaining a good balance between seriousness and sentimentality. She and her orchestra impart a golden glow to the proceedings that is really quite fetching.

The slow-movement Adagio moves firmly yet gracefully along as the Baltimore ensemble caress its plush tones. The Scherzo that follows pays tribute to an old Czech folk dance, which Alsop whips up to a furious pace, maintaining it until a more-rustic section intervenes. Then the Finale introduces a big Brahms-like melody, which concludes the work in high good spirits, Ms. Alsop taking every advantage of the jubilant atmosphere. This may be her best Dvorak performance to date.

Of the two accompanying pieces, the composer published the Nocturne in B major, Op. 40, in 1883, adapting it from the slow movement of his earlier String Quartet in E minor. It's a lovely if slightly melancholy tune. The program ends with the Scherzo capriccioso, Op. 66, also from 1883. It is among Dvorak's best-known compositions, with a wonderfully lilting waltz at its heart, so Ms. Alsop closes the album in style.

The sound, recorded live at Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Baltimore, Ohio, in March 2008 and 2009 (the Scherzo capriccioso), is marginally less thick than it was in Alsop's Seventh and Eighth Symphony recordings, but it still doesn't reveal as much midrange detail as it might. It's somewhat soft, and there appears to be a smidgeon of lower-midrange/upper bass hangover that tends to cloud ultimate transparency a mite. Also, during quieter passages one can sometimes hear a soft rustling from the audience and/or the players. Fortunately, however, there is no applause to spoil the mood. While dynamics and frequency response in the Symphony and Nocturne are adequate, they are not in the demonstration class. In the Scherzo capriccioso, though, we hear a slightly greater punch.

As with Naxos's previous Alsop Dvorak recordings, they provide the CD case with a handsome cardboard slipcover.


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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