Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphonies Nos. 3 and 6
José Serebrier, cond; Bournemouth SO
WARNER 2564 65775-3 (79:56)
This quite wonderful CD, bringing us the best Dvorák Third in a long time and a fine Sixth, speaks to me with something of a backstory. I should mention it, in any case, for the sake of objectivity, as I represented Serebrier for U.S. engagements in the 1970s. Looking back, I’m compelled to think José Serebrier has always had a slightly anomalous career.
An important protégé and hagiographer of Leopold Stokowski, Serebrier first gained public awareness assisting in the elder conductor’s recording of Ives’s Fourth Symphony—which he soon himself recorded—completely differently! In subsequent years he has redone for CD much of the Stokowski transcription repertoire—yet in so doing has revealed himself to be a conductor remarkably opposite from Stokowski, whose approach to music and life was largely and flamboyantly sensual. (Stokowski once jumped out of a white convertible and publicly chased my mother, a married woman, down Fifth Avenue!) There is, instead, something tighter and more vertical about Serebrier’s conducting, perhaps a touch of George Szell included in the mix. The over-the-top gesture is not his way.
That said, there is nothing stiff in Serebrier’s Dvorák, and lots of zestful energy brings the Third Symphony joyously alive. The Dvorák Third has been fairly unlucky on CD, usually to be found included only in full sets of the nine symphonies. The Václav Neumann Third with the Czech Philharmonic is very fine, but recorded in unimaginably edgy sound. Andrew Davis’s Brahmsian version is sonically uncontroversial, but also part of a set only.
I’ve always felt the Third was the best of the very early Dvorák symphonies. Serebrier’s own liner notes mention many of its virtues, but not the one that jumps out at me: This is one of the few symphonies, like the Beethoven Eighth and Schumann “Rhenish,” that surges forward pretty much out of the box and keeps going without many contrasting tempi. That makes it superb “Sunday morning music.” For all its budding Wagnerisms, it essentially lifts things aloft in E? like the Schumann and keeps going, sweeping you away to a similar happy and unneurotic mood.
The Dvorák Sixth has more competition on CD. The Bournemouth Symphony cannot compete with the Bruno Walterish LSO in Kertesz’s classic recording, nor with the Czech Philharmonic for quite the juicy bucolic detail one finds with Belohlávek, nor with the Vienna Philharmonic for blended sonorities in the Chung version, which it somewhat resembles in its concern for clarity and structure. But this is a perfectly fine and lucid Dvorák Sixth. Serebrier takes the first movement exposition repeat, which Belohlávek and Chung do not. The bridge passage, unsurprisingly, is very similar to that in the Brahms Second Symphony and quite pretty. There are those who will argue that Brahms set a bad precedent with such a long first movement. I’m one of them—repeats make more sense to me when they are incisive and quick—not five minutes long! But be that as it may, Dvorák is well served here, nicely recorded in the Poole Arts Centre, and conspicuously alive with energy. And with the much needed Third, José Serebrier has done us all a service.
FANFARE: Steven Kruger
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