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Dvorak: Tone Poems; Concert Overtures; Scherzo Capriccioso; Symphonic Varations

Dvorak / Kertesz / London Sym Orch
Release Date: 11/06/2012 
Label:  Eloquence   Catalog #: 4804870   Spars Code: DDD 
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

DVO?ÁK Carnival. The Water Goblin. Scherzo Capriccioso. Symphonic Variations. Hussite Overture. My Home. The Noonday Witch. Othello. The Golden Spinning Wheel. In Nature’s Realm István Kertész, cond; London SO DECCA ELOQUENCE 4804870 (2 CDs: 155:59)

It is nice to have István Kertész’s Dvo?ák tone poems back with us. A whole generation of listeners grew up on these performances, recorded between 1963 and 1971 in very listenable and consistent sound. Except for Read more Carnival, this more Lisztian side of Dvo?ák does not receive much exposure in the concert hall, even today. The energetic but flexible warmth of the Kertész approach was always a fine introduction to these works. Kertész, who drowned in a rip current off the coast of Israel in 1972, is still sentimentally missed by many listeners as a maturing conductor who gave every sign of becoming another Bruno Walter.

The relative obscurity of most of these works in Dvo?ák’s canon, I believe, has to do with the composer’s sunny harmonic disposition and his temperamental mismatch for the unpleasant dramas he chose to set to music. The plots in these tone poems are almost unimaginably gruesome: dead babies with severed heads washing up at your front door; brides getting their hands cut off and eyes gouged out...It does makes you wonder anew about the undersurface of the 19th century. Freud appears to have had a lot to work on...But it strikes one even more that Dvo?ák was simply not mean enough to write memorably unpleasant music. Franz Schmidt had a similar problem, especially in comparison with Mahler. The more appalling the events occurring in the plots of Dvo?ák’s tone poems, the more the music noodles along pleasantly, its louder moments evoking energy and zest, but never creepiness. Dvo?ák would never have made it composing for film noir.

That said, the greatest depth of emotion in the music here is to be found in Othello and In Nature’s Realm. The introduction to Othello’s plight, which later returns to close out the overture, represents one of the best Wagnerian moments in Dvo?ák—deeply sincere, hushed, regretful, and tear inducing. It prefigures the slow movement of the New World Symphony. And the wind-down from In Nature’s Realm does somehow give one the feeling of saying goodbye to a life well led.

Beyond this, I am of ambiguous mind about the real interest of the Symphonic Variations , an early piece not at the level of the Brahms Haydn Variations , and I become impatient with the sunny burble used to describe virtually everything in the more diffuse tone poems. But that is just my own reaction. These works need no special advocacy. There is much good music in them, and Kertész is quite advocate enough.

FANFARE: Steven Kruger
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