Dvorak: Symphony No. 8 (CD review)

Also, Legends. Jose Serebrier, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Warner Classics 082564628787-1.

Uruguayan conductor and composer Jose Serebrier may have been in his late seventies when he recorded the present album, but clearly he has not slowed down since his debut with the American Symphony Orchestra in 1965. If anything, the autumn of his years has brought with it a mellowing yet still-vibrant maturity that seems perfectly suited to the material he conducts on the program, Dvorak's Legends and the appropriately autumnal Symphony No. 8.

First up on the program are the ten small-scale orchestral pieces, Legends, Op. 59, which Czech composer Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) wrote in 1881 originally for piano four hands and arranged the same year in the orchestral versions we have here. There is a good deal of variety in the pieces because the composer arranged each of them with slightly different orchestrations. Serebrier demonstrates an appropriate feeling for the Slavic influences heard throughout the works, so under his direction we get a good deal of dramatic flair mixed in with the more-tender moments. Also, because there is nothing really to hold the ten little individual items together, the conductor has to create a kind of unison among them himself, which Serebrier does through his obvious love and attention to detail. This is strongly emotional and highly Romantic music, performed with passion, to be sure, yet not with undue melodrama. While I have to admit that listening to all ten of these Legends at the same time can be somewhat tiring toward the end, at least Serebrier is flexible enough to maintain one's attention, and you couldn't ask more from the Bournemouth orchestra.

Then, we get the primary work on the disc, Dvorak's Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88, written in 1889. The piece is among the most-cheerful and poetic of Dvorak's works, the style and structure very much in the Czech Romantic tradition and the inspiration coming largely from the Bohemian folk tunes of the composer's native country.

Dvorak marks the first movement Allegro con brio, with various themes calling upon the sounds of nature, like the birdsong of the flute, creating a sweet atmosphere. Things begin, though, on a somewhat sorrowful note, which quickly morphs into a pleasantly happy, dance-like melody. Serebrier takes the opening theme slowly and deliberately, so that when the change comes, it seems all the more radical and exciting. Under this conductor, it's a thrilling, uplifting change that nicely sets the tone for the rest of the work, without becoming bombastic or overwhelming.

The second movement Adagio (slow, leisurely) starts out as the first movement did with a sort of dour quality of sadness and impeding gloom. Yet it, too, eventually gives way to an inevitably triumphant joy. Again, Serebrier handles it with supreme delicacy, creating transitions so smooth, you hardly know they're happening.

In the third-movement, marked Allegretto grazioso - Molto vivace, we find a sort of dumka (a Slavic folk ballad alternating between sadness and gaiety), generally accepted as a vaguely melancholic waltz, followed by a lively close. Serebrier manages the waltz elements gracefully, bringing out their lilting, lyrical rhythms most tenderly. It's one of Dvorak's loveliest moments, and we're lucky to have people like Serebrier who know how to conduct it with simple elegance, without getting all sentimental on us.

Dvorak fills the Allegro ma non troppo finale with Slavic dances and folk tunes, which the composer expected conductors to treat with energy but not too much so. Here, Serebrier ensures that we remember the symphony's smiling-bright disposition, infusing every note with good cheer. Even the middle section with its vaguely sinister overtones sounds ultimately optimistic under Serebrier. His is one of the more-inspired readings you'll hear of this work.

Producer Chris Hazell and engineer Mike Hatch made the recording at The Lighthouse, Poole, England in February 2014. The sound can be slightly aggressive at times, with a prominent but not objectionable upper midrange. Still, you can't say it doesn't add a fair amount of definition and clarity to the presentation, and the result is mostly pleasing. The stereo spread appears wide and deep, providing a realistic impression of the orchestra's dimensions. Frequency range and dynamics are also up to the occasion. Unless you're playing the music exceptionally loud, the sound remains quite comfortable.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt 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