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Dvořák: Symphonies No 6-9, Carnival Overture

Dvorak / Royal Philharmonic Orch / Nowak
Release Date: 09/27/2011 
Label:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra   Catalog #: 20   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Antonín Dvorák
Conductor:  Grzegorz Nowak
Number of Discs: 3 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 2 Hours 52 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

DVO?ÁK Symphonies: Nos. 6–9. Carnival Overture Grzegorz Nowak, cond; Royal PO ROYAL PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA 020 (3 CDs: 172:34)

Contrary to first assumptions, these recordings are new, having been made between 2009 and 2010. Not yet listed at ArkivMusic at this writing, the set is selling at Amazon for an incredible $20.57, which is less than $7 per disc. Why so cheap I’m not sure, since the performances are all in the good-to-excellent category, the recorded sound is Read more top-notch, the Royal Philharmonic is one of London’s big four (the others being the LSO, the LPO, and the Philharmonia), and he of unpronounceable first name, Grzegorz Nowak, is the RPO’s principal associate conductor.

Hans Richter led the Vienna Philharmonic in a performance of Dvo?ák’s Third Slavonic Rhapsody in 1879. Noting its warm reception by members of the orchestra, Richter encouraged Dvo?ák to compose a symphony. It was an ego boost that gave the composer confidence to begin work on what would become his D-Major Symphony, now cataloged as No. 6. Unfortunately, Dvo?ák’s expectations that Richter would take up the score in Vienna when it was completed a year later were dashed. Richter kept putting Dvo?ák off with one excuse after another, which the composer came to suspect had nothing to do with the conductor and everything to do with anti-Czech sentiments in Vienna. The work was finally premiered in Prague in 1881 under the baton of Adolf ?ech leading the Czech Philharmonic. Amazingly, the score was not taken up in Vienna until 1942.

Beethoven’s influence is still felt in Dvo?ák’s Sixth, but strong Czech folk elements now manifest themselves in the composer’s characterful and colorful nationalist style. Like much of Dvo?ák’s music, the symphony is of ruddy-cheeked complexion, sturdy in melodic and harmonic outlines, and spontaneously tuneful. Only in the plaintive, somewhat nostalgic Adagio movement do the generally cheerful, industrious peasants turn introspective.

For his D-Minor Symphony (No. 7), Dvo?ák had a firmer guarantee of performance than he did for his No. 6. This time, the symphony was specifically commissioned by the London Philharmonic Society during the first of the composer’s highly successful visits to England. The completed work turned out to be somewhat atypical of Dvo?ák. It has been frequently noted that he was under the spell of Brahms’s Third Symphony at the time he wrote it, and that the dark shades and tragic tints of Brahms’s score found their way into Dvo?ák’s. Whatever inspiration or influence he may have been under, the Seventh is arguably Dvo?ák’s greatest symphony, though in popularity it was destined to be eclipsed by the Ninth.

If the Seventh is Dvo?ák’s tribute to Brahms in brooding, heroic-tragic cast, the Eighth is his tribute to his Czech homeland and Bohemian roots. It was in fact written as a heartfelt thank-you to the Bohemian Academy of Emperor Franz Joseph for the Encouragement of Arts and Literature to which the composer had been elected. The work commences with what must surely be one of the most beautiful and memorable melodies to open any symphony, and it proceeds from there in mostly sunny disposition and lyrical vein. If the Eighth is not Dvo?ák’s greatest symphony, it has to be the one that contains his most mellifluous, ear-pleasing music.

I’m sure there will be those who vehemently disagree, but in relation to its popularity, I believe the composer’s No. 9, “From the New World,” to be generally overrated. While that’s a personal opinion that can be debated, what’s not open to conjecture is that despite its having been commissioned by the New York Philharmonic and having been written entirely in the U.S. in 1893 during Dvo?ák’s 1892 to 1895 visit, there’s nothing innately “American” in the music.

Cherished beliefs die hard, but we have to accept the composer at his word when he wrote, “I have not actually used any of the Native American melodies. I have simply written original themes embodying the peculiarities of the Indian music, and, using these themes as subjects, have developed them with all the resources of modern rhythms, counterpoint, and orchestral color.” Though to many ears, those “original themes” have a Native American character, on close examination, they reveal themselves to be as Czech in flavor as anything else Dvo?ák wrote.

As filler for the Ninth on the third disc, we have a performance of another perennial Dvo?ák favorite, the Carnival Overture . Late in 1891, on the eve of his American voyage, the composer began work on a triptych of concert overtures—tone poems really—that were intended to depict “Nature, Life, and Love.” The titles eventually settled on for each opus were In Nature’s Realm, Carnival , and Othello. Carnival , the centerpiece, quickly became the most popular of the group with its swirling hustle and bustle.

If the price holds, this is a real bargain and should be an irresistible acquisition for all Dvo?ák lovers. Performances are of the highest professional caliber and the recordings are excellent. It’s only in the first movement of the Ninth that I have a quibble with Nowak’s somewhat unusual reading in the closing measures of the second theme, but it’s strictly his interpretation I question, not the execution of the orchestra. He makes a rather exaggerated ritard, slowing way down for the little flute solo that comes before the exposition repeat, which, by the way, is observed.

Other than that, I have no complaints about Nowak, the Royal Philharmonic, or the recorded sound in any of these works. Tuning, so crucial in the wind and brass instruments that Dvo?ák loved to write for, is exemplary. The strings, perhaps not as plush and plummy as those of the RPO’s sister LSO, still have plenty of body and sheen. Nowak, if not the most inspired or electrifying of podium masters, turns out consistently good, solid, musically satisfying performances one can enjoy on repeated hearings. Definitely recommended to anyone in the market for a new set of Dvo?ák’s last four symphonies.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 6 in D major, Op. 60/B 112 by Antonín Dvorák
Conductor:  Grzegorz Nowak
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1880; Bohemia 
Date of Recording: 10/2009-01/2010 
Venue:  Cadogan Hall 
Length: 46 Minutes 12 Secs. 
Symphony no 7 in D minor, Op. 70/B 141 by Antonín Dvorák
Conductor:  Grzegorz Nowak
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1884-1885; Bohemia 
Date of Recording: 10/2009-01/2010 
Venue:  Cadogan Hall 
Length: 36 Minutes 42 Secs. 
Symphony no 8 in G major, Op. 88/B 163 by Antonín Dvorák
Conductor:  Grzegorz Nowak
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1889; Bohemia 
Date of Recording: 01/2009 
Venue:  Cadogan Hall 
Length: 35 Minutes 6 Secs. 
Symphony no 9 in E minor, Op. 95/B 178 "From the New World" by Antonín Dvorák
Conductor:  Grzegorz Nowak
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1893; USA 
Date of Recording: 01/2009 
Venue:  Cadogan Hall 
Length: 42 Minutes 16 Secs. 
Carnival Overture, Op. 92 by Antonín Dvorák
Conductor:  Grzegorz Nowak
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1891; USA 
Date of Recording: 11/2009 
Venue:  Cadogan Hall 
Length: 9 Minutes 33 Secs. 

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