Notes and Editorial Reviews
Exton has released numerous recordings with provincial orchestras led by conductors with little affinity for the music. The goal seems to be centered more on expanding its catalog than artistic merit. This one is different. Zdenek Mácal is an experienced and well-recognized Dvorák specialist, and the Czech Philharmonic has the music in its blood. This hybrid multichannel two-SACD album (with a list price of $27.99 that can be significantly discounted) is special. Needless to say, the Czech Philharmonic is outstanding, and it is a pleasure to hear it without the usual dry Supraphon sound.
Most Dvorák fans will probably admit that his Second Symphony is a little too long despite the already
seductive charms of the orchestration and the composer’s natural melodic gift. Mácal moves it along at a perhaps too comfortable pace that never drags or drives the music too hard. The music would benefit from some of the natural exuberance and brighter sound on Witold Rowicki’s version (Philips). The Sixth Symphony is a melodic wonder, and Mácal’s lyrical approach captures the lilt in those melodies very well. The first movement must swing, and Mácal does it better than just about everyone else except for István Kertész (Decca-London). Kertész’s first movement is irresistable, and, aided by Kenneth Wilkinson’s luscious Kingsway Hall sound, he generates more excitement and rhythmic tension in the third and fourth movements than Mácal does. Mácal is excellent, but Kertész’s Sixth is probably the best single performance in his highly acclaimed cycle, which makes it one of the best Dvorák peformances ever recorded.
Exton’s SACD sound is quite good. Recording in Prague’s House of Artists, the engineers manage to avoid the prevailing dryness that plagues many of Exton’s SACDs and most of Supraphon’s recordings. The individual sections of the orchestra are nicely articulated without interrupting the natural smooth legato flow that characterizes both symphonies. Both Kertész and Rowicki benefit immensely from their brighter and more detailed sound, but in both of their complete sets, the Second Symphony is unfortunately spread over two CDs.
So, these are both fine interpretations with good sound. They would be close to ideal if you want this particular coupling, but Rowicki is preferable in the Second and Kertész rules in the Sixth. This is presumably the second release in a desirable ongoing complete cycle (the Third and Seventh symphonies are already available).
FANFARE: Arthur Lintgen
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