Dvorak: Symphonies 5 & 6 (CD review)

Also, Scherzo capriccioso; The Hero's Song. Jiri Belohlavek, BBC Symphony Orchestra. Warner Classics 2564 63235-2 (2-disc set).

I've read that Czech composer Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) was particularly fond of his Fifth Symphony. Well he should have been; while Nos. 7, 8, and especially 9 get all the attention, No. 5 tends to get overshadowed and sometimes even forgotten. But it's a splendid piece of music, as is its companion piece, the Symphony No. 6, the two of them forming a kind of pastoral duo. You can hear them both to good effect in this Warner Classics two-disc set with Jiri Belohlavek and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Belohlavek, the longtime conductor of various Czech orchestras, like the Czech Philharmonic, the Prague Symphony, and the Prague Philharmonia, knows the music inside and out and plays up the lyrical elements in both works. The Fifth begins delightfully, full of bounce and high spirits, and ends with appropriate excitement and good tidings. The Sixth, if anything even lighter and more cheerful than the Fifth, also comes off with an elegant poetry and grace. Dvorak and Belohlavek have the ability to make us feel the bucolic atmosphere of the music, and, if you close your eyes, actually to visualize the Czech countryside. They are lovely interpretations, nicely complemented by two of Dvorak's shorter works, the Scherzo capriccioso and The Hero's Song.

I wish I could be more glowing about the audio, too, but here I came away with mixed feelings. The engineers recorded the Symphony No. 5 in the studio in 2006, and it sounds a bit flat, not dynamic enough overall, and not full enough in the bass to be entirely realistic. They recorded the Symphony No. 6 live at the Royal Festival Hall in 1999, and while it is much warmer, richer, and fuller, it does not sound as detailed. So neither recording is quite up to par sonically, although neither recording will entirely disappoint most listeners. In both cases, the performances overcome any minor shortcomings in the sound.


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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.

Contact Information

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