Dvorak: Symphony No. 9 (New World); Cello Concerto in B minor
Barely two years separate the orchestral masterpieces that framed Dvoπák’s time in New York, and yet they inhabit quite different emotional worlds. The New World Symphony is entirely outgoing, designed to reach out to a new audience, which it did with spectacular success. The Cello Concerto is much more inward-looking, reflecting both Dvoπák’s desire to return to his native Bohemia and sorrow over the death of his sister-in-law, Josefina. Both, however, are among his most richly lyrical orchestral works.
It is clear from the outset that melody is uppermost in Antonio Pappano’s interpretation of the New World. The opening theme is phrased with great tenderness which makes the arrival of the louder, more dynamic material of the introduction a genuine shock. This balance of drama and lyricism makes for some compelling listening in all four movements. Where it falls down is in a slightly literal approach to development. The orchestral playing is occasionally leaden with some petulant woodwind playing. Furthermore, the recorded sound does little to externalise the abundant felicities of Dvoπák’s orchestration.
Much the same is true of the Cello Concerto which is a pity. Mario Brunello’s playing is highly expressive; his handling of the central section of the slow movement and the ruminative passages before the stormy conclusion of the finale are particularly affecting. But neither performances are leading contenders in a field that includes Marin Alsop’s wonderful performance of the New World and Raphael Wallfisch and Charles Mackerras’s deeply impressive reading of the Cello Concerto.