Dvořák: Symphony No. 8, Golden Spinning Wheel, Scherzo Capriccioso - Flor
Classical - Orchestral
Dvořák: Symphony No. 8 in G major Op. 88 B.163, The Golden Spinning Wheel Op. 109 B.197, Scherzo capriccioso Op. 66 B.131
Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra
Claus Peter Flor (conductor)
With his Seventh Symphony, Dvořák had proved that he could compose a ‘respectable’ symphony (as he himself termed it), and had done so to both critical and public acclaim. Four years later, when he began to work on its successor, he apparently felt free to return to a more familiar idiom, and after the serious Seventh – which Dvořák at one stage had considered giving the nickname 'Tragic' – Symphony No. 8 was a lighter work, with its roots firmly planted in the composer’s beloved Czech folklore.
It is probably the freest of his mature symphonies from a formal point of view, and has interesting parallels with Mahler’s First Symphony, which was premièred shortly after Dvořák had completed his own work. Imitations of the sounds of nature, pastoral subjects and fanfares feature in both symphonies, and both evoke a funeral march and a chorale.
The work is here coupled with the symphonic poem The Golden Spinning Wheel, based on an epic poem by the Czech poet Karel Erben. Complete with a wicked stepmother, a dismembering and a magic spinning wheel of gold, this rather cruel fairy-tale is followed by the shorter Scherzo capriccioso. This consistently light-hearted piece was actually composed during one of the darkest periods of Dvořák’s life following the death of his mother in 1882. All of the other works written at this time – including Symphony No. 7 – are characterized by a dark, even tragic mood and it is as if Dvořák in this Scherzo felt the need to once again express unrestrained joy.
Claus Peter Flor and the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra have just released their performance of Symphony No. 7 – a recording which has received top marks (‘10/10’) on the website Classics Today France, whose reviewer described it as ‘a striking disc’ offering ‘a revitalized vision of these major orchestral works’.
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Recorded in September 2010 (Scherzo capriccioso, Zlaty kolovrat) and in July 2011 (Symphony) at the Dewan Filharmonic PETRONAS, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Producers: Jens Braun (Scherzo capriccioso, Zlaty kolovrat), Hans Kipfer (Symphony)
Sound engineer: Hans Kipfer (Scherzo capriccioso, Zlaty kolovrat), Jens Braun (Symphony)
Equipment: Neumann microphones; DiGiCo SD7 digital mixer; Sequoia Workstation; Pyramix DSD Workstation; B&W Nautilus 802 loudspeakers; Sennheiser headphones
Editing: Nora Brandenburg, Elisabeth Kemper
Mixing: Jens Braun, Hans Kipfer
Executive producer: Robert Suff
48 kHz / 24-bit resolution
Review by John Miller - September 5, 2012
Just as Claus Peter Flor darkened his approach and orchestral sound for his powerful Seventh (Dvořák: Symphony No. 7 - Flor), here he lightens and brightens both for this sunny Eighth. Composed in the late summer of 1889, the new symphony was the composer's exercise in escaping the standard structural bondage of the late Romantic symphony, and it is easily the most complex of Dvorák's cycle. Complex in that the movements are all basically tripartite and also in variation form, but simple in that all the thematic material comes from a small number of motifs and rhythmic figures from the first movement. Although we mainly notice the profusion of lovely tunes in this symphony, its popularity and easy assimilation are probably due also to this hidden unity.
Following the sure and unruffled poise of the opening cello tune, transparency of internal balancing and clarity of form and expression is the hallmark of Flor's direction. He very carefully follows Dvorák's dynamic markings, so there is no exaggeration of contrast, and the orchestra responds with some breathtaking soft playing, from solos as well as the ensemble. There are no surprises on the tempi adopted either; Macal, Janssons and Fischer are only a few seconds away from each other and Flor in all the movements: this must mean that the symphony has a "built-in" or natural flow to which good conductors respond instinctively. Without doubt this is a highly rewarding Eighth, superbly played by a very flexible and responsive Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra.
A very significant addition to the disc's programme is 'The Golden Spinning Wheel', at 27'02 not far from the length of the symphony itself. One of Dvorák's symphonic poems, now vanishingly rare in the concert hall and mainly vanquished to fill-ups on records. There is a problem here, mainly for the listeners rather than the musicians. "Programme music" was an important ingredient of late Romanticism, but a doomed ingredient, as music can only convey emotions.
'The Golden Spinning Wheel' is an attempt to musically depict a macabre horror story from Czech folklore, yet the whole, complex story (involving removal of body parts) has to be printed with the score. Even audiences in Dvorák's day with knowledge of this folklore could hardly be able to recognise which part of the story was being played out at any given time, let alone remember all the detailed events and changes in personnel involved. The music is severely fragmented into short sections with often abrupt transitions, having overall very little thematic or emotional continuity. The only clues for the audience are musical clichés such as harps for spinning wheels, brass chords with chorales for death (or church) and so on. Only an opera could have a chance at telling this long story, and instrumental music is, well, just instrumental music. Having said all that, Dvorák is inventive in developing and placing orchestral textures and tonal colour; there are pretty tunes, folk tunes and big soaring tunes for triumphs. Flor and the orchestra produce a performance which is as good as any I've heard, with the same musical virtues as the Eighth. The Golden Spinning Wheel is fine as a musical tapestry, but I'm not at all convinced by its attempt at "storytelling".
Scherzo capriccioso, Op. 66 has been one of my favourite Dvorák pieces from youth. It too rarely appears at concerts, and is even more seldom as a record filler. This is partly because of the many technical difficulties for players and conductors alike. Now at last is the best performance I have ever heard. Flor and his orchestra give the full symphonic scherzo treatment required for this substantial piece, which lasts for just under a quarter of an hour. It begins with a bumptious call to the Allegro con fuoco by the first and second horns, which is taken up and whirled away by the orchestra. Full of energy and some of Dvorák's best tunes, including some truly melting waltzes, the piece dances itself almost to a standstill. Then the horns, now soft and romantic, seductively replay their original statement upon a cushion of orchestral colour, followed by a harp cadenza. A frantically brilliant charge for home from the whole band is the thrilling conclusion.
Sonically, this is another fine BIS reproduction of a concert experience in the spacious Dewan Filharmonic PETRONAS (Kuala Lumpur). The hall's resonance supports a resonant bass with weighty and well-articulated pizzicati from the double basses and cellos, and there is an impressive depth perspective, especially in the 5.0 track. From a separate session, the orchestral sound for the Scherzo capriccioso has an even more vibrant and defined presence.
A generously filled disc at 79'28, carrying a tempting programme which I would commend to those collecting Flors' Dvorák cycle (roll on the Fifth!) or anyone interested in the programme itself.
Copyright © 2012 John Miller and HRAudio.net
Review by Graham Williams - September 21, 2012
There is no shortage of recommendable versions of Dvorak's Symphony No. 8 even on SACD. For this listener the field has been led by Ivan Fischer and his wonderful Budapest Festival Orchestra on a recording made in 2000, originally issued by Philips and now available on Channel Classics. The bracing vigour of the playing and fine recording by Polyhymnia engineers should put this SACD at the top of anyone's short list for this work. Those seeking a darker and more sombre approach to this symphony should seek out the richly recorded account by Yakov Kreizberg on PentaTone that also has much to recommend it and, of course, there are many others to suit all tastes.
Now another very strong contender has appeared on BIS from Claus Peter Flor and the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra. I was very impressed by these artist's superb recording of Suk's 'Asrael Symphony' and this new Dvorak disc confirms their undoubted empathy with Czech music. Flor's performance of the symphony is beguilingly fresh and the confident playing of his excellent orchestra is a joy to hear. Tempi are well chosen and the sound captured by engineers Jens Braun and Hans Kipfer in the Dewan Philhamonic PETRONAS is bright and exceptionally clear with an excellent spread and depth. However, there is intense competition amongst recordings of this popular symphony and though Flor never disappoints his account does not quite match the imagination and flare shown by Fischer. Comparing the 'Allegretto grazioso' movement in both versions will quickly illustrate their differences in execution.
The two other works on this generously filled disc are also worth having and again are also exceptionally well played. 'The Golden Spinning Wheel' is the longest and arguably the finest of Dvorak's late symphonic poems. The narrative of the grisly story is vividly portrayed by the music, and thanks to the supremely confident orchestral playing and Flor's invigorating conducting it makes a very strong impression indeed. Dvorak's inventive and energetic 'Scherzo Capriccioso' is projected with equal aplomb by these artists, and in both works Dvorak's use of the percussion is vividly reproduced by the clean recording. These two fill-ups were recorded some 10 months before the symphony, and to my ears, at a slightly higher level than the symphony.
To sum up - a most enjoyable coupling of these popular pieces in scintillating sound.
Copyright © 2012 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net