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