Notes and Editorial Reviews
Yes, the Fourth! Singleton recordings of this symphony are simply unheard of outside of complete cycles, and few less than hard core Dvorák fans have anything good to say about it. I actually thought, initially, that this disc contained the Eighth and had simply reverted for some perverse reason to the old numbering system. The fact that so few conductors, even Dvorák specialists, conduct the work without apology means that it has had to struggle for recognition, and also for a really, truly, stunning performance. Well folks, this is it. Hengelbrock conducts the music with no apologies. It’s about time.
Sure, the form of the outer movements is stiff, but no one takes Schumann to task for his non-developing
sonata movements. Oh hey, I forgot, he’s German, so he gets a pass. In this symphony, the opening movement’s first and and second subjects are almost ridiculously contrasted, but that only makes their progress ridiculously easy to follow. And face it, isn’t Dvorák’s decision to bring back the music of the introduction at the very end extremely effective? Yes, the overture to Wagner’s Tannhäuser lies behind the solemn trombone theme at the start of the slow movement, but admit it: it’s a much better tune than Wagner’s. We may indulge in pointless arguments about who was the “greater” composer, but Dvorák was unquestionably the better tunesmith.
The scherzo always has been wholly lovable. Hengelbrock tears into it with gusto, and shamelessly enjoys the brass band trio, with its over-the-top percussion. Then there’s the finale. Its main theme is an endlessly repeated nursery-rhyme sort of tune, but don’t you think Dvorák was smart enough to know that? There’s a cunning hand at work in the way it contrasts with the rhythmically fluid second theme. More to the point, this movement represents the very first instance of a form that we will encounter in many future works, especially the piano concertos of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, as well as the latter’s Second Symphony: the finale with a “Big Tune” that comes back at the end as a lyrical apotheosis. Once again, Hengelbrock does not minimize the movement’s schematic clarity and naivety–he celebrates it, going completely insane in the coda, and the result is just wonderful.
The coupling is an absolutely gorgeous and perfectly paced reading of the delicious and still too little-known Czech Suite. The playing of the NDR Orchestra, so gutsy and grand in the symphony, is absolutely exquisite here. Check out the superb solo flute and English horn in the Romance, one of the most beautiful tunes in the repertoire. Aside from some slightly booming timpani in the symphony, the sonics are as vivid as the interpretations. Having this opportunity to hear the Fourth Symphony as the star of the show is simply priceless, and it may well change your view of early Dvorák.
-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
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