Dvorak: Serenades (CD review)

Myung-Whun Chung, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. DG 471 613-2.

Dvorak wrote his Serenade for String Orchestra in 1875, for the composer a most productive year that also saw the completion of various chamber works, a grand opera, and his Fifth Symphony. It is the Serenade, however, that has proven of most lasting value, a particularly graceful piece that has come down to us as one of the nineteenth century's two most famous Serenades, the other being Tchaikovsky's.

Dvorak's Serenade most closely matches the Random House Dictionary's definition of serenade:  "...a complimentary performance of vocal or instrumental music in the open air at night, as by a lover under the window of his lady." The music has all the qualities of romance on a warm, still evening, and Maestro Myung-Whun Chung's rendition is warm and gracious to suit the mood. His manner with long, gentle, flowing lines is evident from the very beginning, and his lilting approach to the several waltz interludes in the second and fifth movements provides the work an uncommon elegance and tranquility. It is lovely music interpreted most felicitously by Chung and members of the Vienna Philharmonic's string section.

Most often, record companies couple Dvorak's String Serenade with Tchaikovsky's String Serenade, but this time it is alongside Dvorak's later Serenade for Wind Ensemble from 1878. This piece has a more sedate maturity about it, not quite so dreamily romantic, more blunt and to the point, but not without its touches of melodic fantasy. Perhaps it suffers by comparison to its earlier sibling because it has not the benefit of the more rapturous sound of massed strings going for it; one can only do so much with oboes, clarinets, and bassoons. But it makes a welcome and aurally contrasting companion to the String Serenade.

DG's sound is lush and mellow, smooth and effortless. There is no attempt here to capture any great transparency or crispness but to communicate both works' fluency through the most refined sonics possible. This is not to say the sound is soft or veiled in any way, however; it is not. Indeed, it is clean and clear but in a most comfortable and pleasing way. In fact, the only objection some buyers may have is that the two works on the album total a mere fifty minutes playing time together, which on the surface seems lean value for the disc. Still, with music making of such high order, perhaps it is not the price we should be looking at.


To listen to a couple of brief excerpts from this album, click here:

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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