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Dvorak: Symphonies 3 & 7 - Macal

Dvorak: Symphonies 3 & 7 - Macal

Exton  OVCL-00280

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Dvorak: Symphony No. 3, Symphony No. 7

Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Zdenek Macal (conductor)

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Review by John Miller - May 19, 2008

The first movement of Dvorák's Third Symphony boasts arguably the most glorious and extended opening melody of any Romantic symphony. It was this symphony which brought Brahms' staunch support, and also persuaded the Czech government to give Dvorák a life-long stipend, another rarity in his time.

The third is the shortest of his symphonic cycle, and the only one to have three movements. Yet another unique feature is that the first movement has only the one subject, something not done since Haydn's day. This buoyant, optimistic music surges ahead most persuasively with Macal and the Czech Philharmonic - carefree and joyful 'feel-good' music if there ever was. They relax in the deeply felt second movement, revelling in its glowing orchestration of funereal colour, and its noble trio with sobbing winds. But the finale is irresistibly cheeky with dotted rhythms and inexhaustible energy. Dvorák throws out tempting hints of Tannhäuser's Pilgrim Hymn; the piquant sound of the Czech winds shows them partaking fully in the mood of subversive humour. Just before the exuberant ending, a piccolo hilariously goes 'mad' for a few moments before the orchestra gathers to gallop home with thrilling panache. This performance easily rivals that of Libor Pešek and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic on RBCD, which has hitherto been my touchstone for this unaccountably neglected work. It really ought to be a regular item on concert programmes.

Symphony 7 requires no such special advocacy; it is certainly one of, if not the greatest of Dvorák's set. Another concentrated and cogent work, it is his second shortest symphony. Programmatically, its dark. minor key opening is in fine contrast with the preceding brilliant finale of the Third symphony. This Seventh is like a Pandora's Box, seemingly limitless in invention and emotion, which Macal and his players explore and reveal with confidently idiomatic freshness. The orchestra is on top form; listen to the subtle rubato in the well-loved string theme of the Scherzo, which they play as instinctively as the Vienna Philharmonic do The Blue Danube. The wit, charm and pure spirit of this movement rely on its many plays on polyrhythms, the movement itself being in 6/4 time, and it is difficult to render so clean and expressive an interpretation, yet maintain a light touch. At the conclusion of the darkly strenuous minor mood of the Finale, the burnished brass chorus of the CPO bring majesty and radiance as the key switches into the major for a most satisfying chorale-like peroration.

The Exton engineers have managed to produce a remarkably life-like view of the orchestra in its reverberant hall, from a seat close to the front of the auditorium. It sounds even better than the sound achieved in the Symphony 4 and 8 disc of Macal's nearly complete cycle. The present recording is more transparent, has sharper positional focus for the instrumental groups and greater detail in climaxes, The bass is strong but well-tamed and notably not boomy. Surround channels are, as usual for Exton, somewhat reticent, but the sense of being in the Rudolfinum allows one's full concentration to be on the music.

An excellent disc which has given me great delight and revealed yet more facets of Dvorák's wonderful mastery of orchestration and instrumental textures.

Copyright © 2008 John Miller and HRAudio.net

Performance:

Sonics (Stereo):

Sonics (Multichannel):

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Review by John Broggio - August 23, 2008

A wonderful release that contains two highly contrasted symphonies by Dvorák in thoroughly idiomatic performances from the Czech forces under Mácal.

The third symphony is often referred to as Dvorák's Wagnerian symphony but here this notion appears surprising, despite some commonality of orchestration. The writing is approached with a winning freshness by Mácal; he and the Czech Philharmonic are fully at one in allowing the melodies to flow from one to another - it is a pleasure to hear such a fine ensemble "singing" to themselves for our benefit. The "slow" movement is marked "Adagio molto. Tempo di marcia" and here Mácal clearly considers that the march should decide exactly how molto the adagio should be paced - this lends some welcome coherence to the proceedings that even conductors of the stature of Kubelik have failed to convey on a consistent basis. The delightful finale is given a rousing but sensitive account that fully captures but never overstates the drama of the music with the denouement of the coda, it caps a performance that dances away into the imagination's joy!

The seventh is rightly acclaimed as a landmark work in Dvorák's symphonic output and is given a performance that emphasises the structural rather than emotional content. To some listeners this might initially seem as though Mácal is short-changing the work but the clarity of exposition of the ideas allows one to appreciate both the composition and the music-making and then focus the ear to here the different aspects that one wishes. The nigh-perfect balancing of the orchestra helps a great deal and the Czech players clearly respond with a freshness and joy to a work that they must have played so many times, it is a wonder they need the sheet music! The individual rhythmic details specified are accurately played in a manner that enhances the intellectual appreciation of the score but this is no mere cerebral exercise. The opening of the slow movement is a joy to the ear from the opening clarinet solo to the subsequent stretto string motifs to concluding coda (that here sounds eerily reminiscent to the conclusion of Brahms' 3rd symphony). The pointing of the phrases in the Scherzo is wonderful - few manage to get a feeling of bounce without recourse to a fast tempo that blurs details and leaves nothing in reserve for the coda. The trio is played with an apparent innocence by the woodwind that is completely disarming and yet prepares one for the return of the vigorous dance entirely naturally. Where many conductors attempt to find "significance" in the opening of the finale, Mácal rightly recognises that the introduction is "in tempo"; the structure and resulting emotional force becomes stronger from not inflicting needless rubato upon the first few bars. The concluding coda then has a hard won glowing strength that is often missing from other accounts.

As indicated, the balance of sound is extremely natural and self-effacing. Whilst a great deal of credit must go to Mácal and the Czech Philharmonic, the Exton recording from the Rudolfinum in Prague reminds one of listening to the Wiener Philharmoniker from the Musikverein or the Concertgebouw in their Amsterdam hall - it is just "right" for the size of the orchestra and their style of playing; it is to the engineers credit that they reflect this characteristic so vividly, yet naturally (with no apparent spotlighting).

Highly recommended of a great orchestra in "their" music.

Copyright © 2008 John Broggio and HRAudio.net

Performance:

Sonics (Multichannel):

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