Notes and Editorial Reviews
A unique, intense and magnetic experience.
This is the first account of Dvorak's New World to exceed the 50-minute barrier, and that statistic is the more remarkable when Bernstein's reading of the scherzo is by contrast the fastest I have ever come across. It is a version of a much-loved masterpiece which has to be related to his similarly expansive DG account of Tchaikovsky's Pathetique Symphony, in its turn the first to exceed 60 minutes. This reading of the Dvorak, like that of the Tchaikovsky, is in a very literal sense incomparable, and that is why I have omitted any selected comparisons.
The introduction to the first movement Allegro at once establishes the performance's special quality in a rapt
Adagio, very slow and moulded, punctuated by commanding fortissimos. I have rarely heard the Israel Philharmonic play so beautifully, helped by the acoustic of the Salle Pleyel in Paris where the live recording was made. The magnetism and high voltage electricity immediately command attention, whatever one's reservations about the interpretation, and that is so in the main Allegro, where at a fast basic speed Bernstein again uses the widest possible dynamic range.
The second movement Largo brings the most remarkable statistic of all, for where it is common for performances to take around 11 minutes—I cite Kondrashin on Decca or Macal on CfP for example—Bernstein expands the movement to an almost incredible 18'22''. It is an astonishing instance of his magnetism, convincing us for the moment that this totally still, concentrated performance is what Dvorak had in mind. It is trance-like even in the middle section, barely any faster, putting the emphasis on the first word of poco piu mosso. The cor anglais solo by Merrill Greenberg is unusually plaintive-sounding, as well it might be, with the tone affected by intonation leaning on the flat side.
The scherzo, as I say, is hectically fast, almost breathless in the main theme, but delightfully sprung in the contrasting episodes. The finale returns to the broad approach, with speeds not as steady as I prefer, but with the triplet passages made to skip more infectiously than usual. The three Slavonic Dances recorded more drily back in the orchestra's own home, the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv—also bring delectable rhythmic pointing, the three favourite dances that, as any pianist knows, are the most enjoyable of all to play in Dvorak's piano-duet versions, something that this pianist-conductor has obviously well appreciated.
This, then, can never be a standard recommendation for a much-recorded symphony, any more than Bernstein's version of the Pathetique can, but it does provide a unique, intense and magnetic experience.
-- Edward Greenfield, Gramophone [10/1989]
Works on This Recording
Be the first to review this title