Dvořák: Symphonies 4 & 8 - Mácal

Dvořák: Symphonies 4 & 8 - Mácal

Exton  OVCL-00281

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral

Dvořák: Symphony No. 4, Symphony No. 8

Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Zdeněk Mácal (conductor)

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Reviews (1)

Review by John Miller - May 8, 2008

A regrettable tradition seems to have grown up that Dvorak's first five symphonies should be rarely performed live, and recorded less. One might just as well dismiss the early symphonies of Beethoven or Schubert as juvenilia. Dvorak began his symphonies at the age of 24 in 1865, and together they make a fascinating record of his engagement with the form. One can follow how his respect for the German classical tradition vied with experimentation in incorporating Czech rhythms, harmony and melodies. He quickly began to develop his unique voice, even though he was no prodigy.

Putting it in perspective, the fourth symphony (1874) is contemporary with Bruckner's fourth, Wagner's Götterdämerung and Verdi's Requiem. It is formally more strict than the first three symphonies, but full of colour from Dvorak's growing experience with the Romantic orchestra. Tongue-in-cheek, the high-tension first subject in the first movement suddenly gives way to the major key and a lovely waltz tune. Macal clearly recognises the humour of releasing the tension in this way, and beautifully negotiates other switches of lyricism and rhetoric in this closely argued and compact movement. The distinctive woody timbres of the Czech Philharmonic join burnished horns for the theme of a fine set of variations in the slow movement, and Dvorak's love of train-spotting tells in the Scherzo, whose chugging rhythm is joined by joyous harp and violin roulades. A five-note up and down scale of Brucknerian sparseness is the finale's unpromising first subject, but lyricism soon has the better of it, and the Big Tune is brought back at the end. A persuasive performance which makes the neglect of this symphony seem inexplicable.

The eighth symphony is given a similarly affectionate and often glowing performance. The orchestra play this with an fluid ease and grace born of long association, but preserve a freshness of approach which is most enjoyable. They and Macal bring out a number of counter-melodies which I had never really noticed, making this a more than merely routine performance.

This recording (dated 1997) bears a label which proclaims DSD Remastered, so it probably originates in Exton's DVD-A issues before they turned fully to DSD. The PCM on the DVD-A was 96K/24bit, and I assume this was used for the DSD remastering. The Rudolfinium is notorious to recording engineers for its very long and rather hard reverberance, but microphone placement manages to tame this quite well, although inevitably with some loss of detail at climaxes, and some boom with certain tympani pitches. The orchestral perspective is both wide and fairly deep in stereo, and is reasonably consistent and coherent. But the alleged multichannel track is not worthy of its title. You have to turn up the volume very high to hear anything from the rears, and I can't hear anything from the centre speaker at all. Hence it merits only couple of stars.

Macal may not have produced readings which match the very best of Kertész, Rowicki and Pešek, but these two symphonies are attractive and enjoyable. At the time of writing, there are no other choices for the early symphonies on SA-CD.

Copyright © 2008 John Miller and


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