Dvorak: Symphony No. 9 (CD review)

Also, Czech Suite; Slavonic Dances. Jose Serebrier, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Warner Classics 2564 66656-3.

Maestro Jose Serebrier has been leading and recording orchestras for close to fifty years, making him one of the old guard among current classical conductors. By his own count, he has recorded the music of Czech composer Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) at least three or more times in the past, so he knows what he's doing. Now, he embarks on a complete Dvorak symphony cycle for Warner Classics, beginning with this disc of the Ninth Symphony and several accompanying works.

The program opens with Dvorak's Slavonic Dance No. 1, Op. 46, which gets things off to an energetic start. This was one of the composer's early successes, inspired as he was by Brahms's Hungarian Dances and urged to do so by no other than Brahms himself. Serebrier does a commendable job maintaining the work's forward thrust.

The centerpiece of the album, though, is the Symphony No. 9 "From the New World." Many listeners over the years seem to hear instances of American idioms in the music, when in fact most of it Dvorak said was entirely original. Its title, "From the New World," really only came about because Dvorak happened to be living in New York at the time he wrote it. While to some small degree local tunes may have inspired the composer, the music is clearly Czech in flavor. At the very least as Leonard Bernstein once remarked, one might consider it multinational. Whatever the case, Serebrier zips through the first movement with a healthy conviction, ushering in an even quicker-paced Largo than one usually hears. It's still quite lovely, if a little on the perfunctory side.

The conductor has a good time with the Scherzo, keeping it light and airy while still generating a good deal of excitement. However, both the composer and the conductor save up their big guns for the finale, which brings the work to a happy and jubilant close. Unfortunately, there are quite a few rival recordings, and with this one you'd really have to want the couplings to make it competitive. Otherwise, you might be better off with any one or more of my own favorites: Kertesz and the LSO (Decca), Reiner and Chicago Symphony (RCA or RCA/JVC), Dorati and the New Philharmonia (HDTT), Kertesz and the Vienna Philharmonic (London), Macal and the LPO (EMI), Neumann and the Czech Philharmonic (Denon), Kubelik and the Berlin Philharmonic (DG), and Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony (Naxos) among others.

Now, speaking of couplings, the program concludes with the Czech Suite, Op. 39, followed by the Slavonic Dance No. 2, Op. 72, both of them showing plenty of color and rhythmic flair. In particular I thought the lyric simplicity and lilting beauty of the Suite was enough to make exploring the disc worthwhile.

Recorded at the Lighthouse, Poole Arts Centre, Poole, Dorset in 2011, the sound is notable for its high-end sheen and fairly transparent midrange. It suffers slightly from an undernourished low end, though not by much, and a touch of treble harshness. So, the balance is just a tad off, while the clarity is exemplary. I had hoped for a bit more orchestral depth, too, made up for by a smooth upper bass and a pleasant sense of resonant bloom. Overall, the sound is reasonably realistic and brings much enjoyment.

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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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