Dvorak: Symphonies Nos. 8 and 9 (CD review)

Ivan Fischer, Budapest Festival Orchestra. Philips 289 464 640-2.

Clearly, the years have jaded me. Any recording of something so popular as Dvorak's "New World" Symphony has to be pretty special to make a dent in my well-established hierarchy of favorites. I'm afraid that even so distinguished a crew as Ivan Fischer and his Budapest Festival Orchestra couldn't quite do that, although they give it a good shot.

Fischer's 2001 Philips release of the Ninth goes along without a snag; fact is, I can't fault it on much of any grounds. My hesitation in fully recommending the disc is that if you compare it to the company of Kertesz (Decca), Kondrashin (Decca), Reiner (RCA), Horenstein (Chesky), Macal (EMI Classics for Pleasure), Neumann (Denon), Kubelik (DG), Davis (Philips), and others, Fischer sounds somewhat ordinary. The performance is not without spirit, however, and one cannot complain about its not being lyrical enough or even thrilling enough. Indeed, Fischer handles the slow movement as beautifully as anyone I've heard. Yet maybe he overdoes things a bit, trying too hard to inject moments of excitement where a more steady hand might have sufficed.

Ivan Fischer
What's more important, though, is that Fischer's interpretation of the accompanying Eighth Symphony is even more invigorating than his Ninth. Indeed, if it weren't for price (and I'd say availability, too, now that Philips is no more, but I believe both Decca and Channel Classics have revived it, in SACD, too), I'd recommend this disc for the latter piece alone. In the Eighth Symphony Fischer persuasively captures the feelings both of bucolic warmth and of native Czech flair. It's a lovely reading.

Nor can I say too much against Philips's sound, which is warm, spacious, and natural throughout. Yet I find it difficult to find anything about the sound to praise over its rivals, either, the rivals themselves either warm and natural or in most cases more detailed and more brilliantly alive, as well. The Philips sound for Fischer is a bit underwhelming at the high end and a bit lower-midrange heavy at the other extreme. A little more treble openness would have probably given the music a better spit-and-polish.

Doubtlessly, the two most important factors this disc has going for it are that it seems more than competently performed, and it pairs two of Dvorak's most famous compositions. Nevertheless, I would remind the reader that Philips had also issued a two-disc, mid-priced set of all three late Dvorak symphonies under Sir Colin Davis, excellent renditions in excellent sound and probably still available somewhere. Now, for value, that's a hard act to beat.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me--point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, as of right now it comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio High Current preamplifier, AVA FET Valve 550hc or Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa