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.


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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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