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Dvorak: Symphony No 7; Elgar: Enigma Variations / Monteux

Dvorak / Monteux / London Sym Orch
Release Date: 03/27/2012 
Label:  Eloquence   Catalog #: 4805019  
Composer:  Antonín DvorákSir Edward Elgar
Conductor:  Pierre Monteux
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

DVO?ÁK Symphony No. 7. ELGAR Enigma Variations Pierre Monteux, cond; London SO DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 5019 (66:59)

Browsing through used LP bins, some of you may come upon something identified as “Dvo?ák: Symphony No. 2 in D Minor, op. 70” when no such piece actually exists, at least not anymore. As Dvo?ák’s fame increased, he attracted the attention of Simrock, Brahms’s publisher. At the latter’s urging, Simrock signed up Read more Dvo?ák, who gave him his Sixth Symphony. Whether Simrock was unaware that Dvo?ák had already written five previous symphonies or didn’t care, the piece was published as Dvo?ák’s “Symphony No. 1.” The misnumbering of his symphonies continued for the rest of Dvo?ák’s life and well in to the 1950s until the symphonies entered the public domain, at which time a Czech publisher was able to give all nine symphonies their correct sequential numbers. The first four symphonies were followed by No. 5 (the former “No. 3”), No. 6 (the former “No. 1”) and so on to the “New World” Symphony, which now appeared as No. 9 instead of “No. 5.” Afraid of possible confusion, recording companies hedged their bets and did things like using both numbers, as in “Dvo?ák: Symphony No. 7 (2) in D Minor.” This caution about changing numbers is reflected in the pages of the Schwann Catalog (remember the Schwann Catalog ?): In January 1963 (I don’t have every back issue), the Dvo?ák Seventh Symphony, with seven available recordings, including this one by Monteux, was still being listed as “Symphony No. 2.” By October 1964, the designation read “Dvo?ák: Symphony No. 7 in d, op. 70 (old No. 2).” This continued into 1978 but in my July 1979 Schwann , the old numbers finally disappeared.

Although I’ve been familiar with the symphony for years, I was not familiar with many of its recordings—in fact, the only recordings I really knew were Rafael Kubelík’s Philharmonia Orchestra LP, and István Kertész’s Vienna Philharmonic CD, so I had to play catch-up to put the Monteux in perspective. In such a situation it helps to have friends with big record collections and a good library system, so I was able to hear the recordings of Antal Doráti, Colin Davis (both), Carlo Maria Giulini (both), Andrew Davis, Václav Talich, Roger Norrington, Eugene Ormandy, Witold Rowicki, Constantin Silvestri, John Barbirolli, Neeme Järvi, George Szell, Rafael Kubelík (his Berlin one) and, of course, Pierre Monteux. I have sometimes claimed that, although I might have my favorites, I could probably live with 80 percent of the recordings of any given standard-repertory piece, and that was pretty much the case here. Eliminating Talich (a 1938 recording), Järvi (a mushy recording), and Szell (excessive gain-riding—I only heard the LP) on sonic grounds, you’re left with quite a few very good performances. Monteux leads with his customary energy and warmth, sounding for all the world like an experienced Dvo?ák conductor, although this is the only Dvo?ák piece he ever recorded. I’ll bet he would have done quite well with Nos. 6 and 8 but, for all that, his performance doesn’t really stand out in this crowd—it’s just one of several very good ones, among which I would number the two Colin Davises, the Ormandy, the two Giulinis, the Kubelík, the Rowicki, and especially, the Doráti. Why the Doráti? Because I approve of his two departures from convention: He takes the first movement slower than anyone else and the second movement faster than anyone else, and I think it works. I like the lazy, relaxed feeling of his first movement and the tightness of his second. I prefer Davis/LSO to Davis/Concertgebouw because it’s slightly slower and has great sound, and I prefer Giulini/Philharmonia to Giulini/Concertgebouw because it has a lighter touch. Ormandy’s is conventional in the best sense of the word and executed with the expected finesse. I find Rowicki’s opening movement a bit too sing-songy but like it quite a bit the rest of the way. Kubelík’s is a warm, flexible performance that seems to be held in even higher esteem by others. I suppose these are my favorites, but I would have no problem living with those of Andrew Davis, Norrington, Kertész, and Monteux, and I certainly, at least, respect those of Barbirolli, Silvestri, Szell, Talich, and Järvi.

The Enigma Variations is the only Elgar piece recorded by Monteux. I don’t feel like wading through my old Schwann s again but I suspect that his recording hasn’t been out of the catalog very much since it appeared as an RCA Victor LP, coupled with the Brahms Haydn Variations , around 1959. It’s a forthright, dynamic performance that sounds cleaner and more powerful on this Eloquence reissue and will probably continue to be many people’s favorite. I wouldn’t have minded a bit more sentiment in some of the variations.

FANFARE: James Miller
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 7 in D minor, Op. 70/B 141 by Antonín Dvorák
Conductor:  Pierre Monteux
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1884-1885; Bohemia 
Date of Recording: 10/1959 
Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 36 "Enigma" by Sir Edward Elgar
Conductor:  Pierre Monteux
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1898-1899; England 
Date of Recording: 06/1958 

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