Dvorak: Symphony No. 9 "From the New World" (CD review)

Also, Martinu: Symphony No. 2.  Paavo Jarvi, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Telarc CD-80616.

The idea behind this coupling was for Maestro Paavo Jarvi to bring together works by two celebrated Czech composers, Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) from the nineteenth century and Bohuslav Martinu (1890-1959) from the twentieth. Jarvi intended for us to see how the two pieces, while separated by time, found connections of national heritage. Fair enough. The only minor reservation I would have is that except for the representative works coming from Czech composers who wrote them in America, they are really not all that much alike except in their overall positive, melodic character.

Of greater concern, I can't say I found Jarvi's interpretation of the "New World" particularly compelling. Maybe I've listened to too many recordings of the piece over the years for a middle-of-the-pack contender like Jarvi's to affect me much. His reading is certainly not bad by any means, and for the listener who doesn't have the work (is there such a listener?), Telarc recorded this one pretty well, so it's probably as good as most. It has a high energy quotient, an imaginative attack, and an appropriate zest. Moreover, Jaarvi's Cincinnati Symphony plays as lustrously, as glowingly, and as precisely as any ensemble you could find.

Nevertheless, it's really the companion piece, Martinu's Second Symphony, that stands out here. Martinu rejected what he deemed the discordant components of modern music and preferred a more relaxed, old-fashioned style, though one often marked by modern jazz influences as well as idiomatic folk elements. The composer wrote that his "Second Symphony is calm and lyric. It seems to me that we have no need of a professional and technical expression of torture; rather do we need orderly thought, expressed calmly." Thus do we get a brief, twenty-three-minute symphony in the conventional four movements that includes any number of dance rhythms and jazz inflections. Jarvi seems to be having fun with the music, and he easily communicates in it the calm and order as well as the sheer exhilaration the work requires.

Telarc's sound is, as is sometimes the case, a tad on the warm, thick side, with a wonderfully dynamic bass line and reasonably good stereo imaging. The highs ring out clearly and realistically in the "New World," especially. While I'm not sure the disc is worth full price for essentially the Martinu alone, I am glad I got to hear both pieces on the disc side by side.

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