This recording originally was released by Philips in 2001, and the Budapest Festival Orchestra in those days was not quite the ensemble it has since become. My colleague Mike Liebowitz raved about the engineering in surround-sound SACD format; I was less impressed in regular stereo. I offer the higher sound rating for audiophiles. Otherwise, my previous review appears below.
There's a lot to admire in this pair of performances. Iván Fischer has a strong, lively interpretive personality and he manages the difficult task of leaving his mark on both of these oft-recorded works. The surprisingly quick, intensely dramatic introduction to the New World's first movement sets the stage for an urgent performanceRead more that reveals an extreme sensitivity to dynamics. Sometimes this can get a bit exaggerated. At the climax of the (also rather swift) Largo, for example, he catches the fact that the trombones play the symphony's "motto" theme first fortissimo, then forte, but surely makes too much of the difference and so buries the second statement too deeply in the general welter of sound. The cute little diminuendos at the ends of the scherzo's trio sections also fail to convince, but the movement proper has great rhythmic verve, as does the propulsive finale.
The Eighth Symphony sports similar virtues on the whole, though the orchestra's limitations (great strings, so-so winds, and weak horns) do not play to this colorfully scored symphony's strengths. You'll love, for example, the svelte, athletic grace that Fischer brings to the gorgeous third movement, its delicious touches of string portamento perfectly in place. But the finale, for all its vigor, needs more character (and more presence) from the winds, particularly in the run-up to the central climax, as well as in the slow variations preceding the coda. Also (as in the Ninth), the climaxes tend to lose focus in the bass--timpani lack impact, brass balances aren't equalized--sounding a bit cloudy, clearly a problem with the acoustics of the performance space.
Still, and despite that fact that this review may read more like a catalog of flaws than of praise, if you collect Dvorák symphonies this disc will most probably be a "keeper" for the insights that Fischer has to offer. None of its problems are terribly serious, but you can't help but wonder what a truly great orchestra and fabulous sound would have brought to the party.
Great Sound, Enthusiastic PlayingDecember 2, 2014By John W Hadbavny (Eatonton, GA)See All My Reviews"I heard the 8th one morning on NPR. Quickly decided I had to own it - fully lives up to expectations. Probably the best "record" out there of the 8th, and Fischer's handling of the 9th is frosting on the cake. JWH"Report Abuse