Dvorak: Symphony No. 5

LABELS: Supraphon
WORKS: Symphony No. 5
PERFORMER: Czech PO/Karel Sejna
Springtime makes a premature appearance via the good offices of Supraphon and the invigorating art of Czech conductor Karel SŠejna, a little-known master whose dashing, big-hearted accounts of major Dvorák and Smetana orchestral works fairly leap from the speakers. Recent releases include a bench-mark set of the Slavonic Dances, and likewise SŠejna’s stylishly turned account of the delightful Fifth Symphony – an object-lesson in unaffected Dvorák interpretation – has absolutely no significant stereo rival. The couplings are Dvorák’s three Slavonic Rhapsodies, invigorating essays that combine the frisky rhythms of the Slavonic Dances with the rugged orchestral contours of Smetana’s Má vlast. Again, all three performances sweep the board.


A year before SŠejna taped Dvorák’s Fifth in Prague, Wilhelm Furtwängler was at the 1951 Salzburg Festival conducting Bruckner’s Fifth. And what a contrast: SŠejna as candid and immediate as Dvorák’s best work. Furtwängler a restless, inconsistent, fitfully frenetic and spontaneous Brucknerian. ‘Speedings-up’ and ‘slowings-down’ are legion, most disruptively in the slow movement; but somehow it all adds up, even though the total is far from what you’d expect.

However, it’s top marks all round for RCA’s latest Horowitz CD, a previously unpublished collection that includes a technicoloured Kabalevsky sequence (including the New York premiere of the Second Piano Sonata). Also included are highly seductive selections from Prokofiev’s Cinderella, three Debussy Études, Intermezzo No. 2 and Novelette No. 1 by Poulenc and the New York premiere of three Samuel Barber Excursions. Recorded live between 1945 and 1949, all prompt an unusually high tingle factor. However, my ‘piano CD of the month’ is, if anything, even more arresting – and very unexpected. It homes in on the art of Severin Eisenberger, a virtual unknown who never recorded commercially but who hailed from the same social and educational environment as the great Ignaz Friedman. Indeed, Friedman much admired Eisenberger, and no wonder: his mercurial touch, poetic sensitivity and volatile temperament spell ‘Golden ’ in every bar, although you’ll need to brave ropey, pre-war ‘broadcast’ sound and third-rate orchestral playing in the Chopin Second Piano Concerto.


No such problems hinder Walter Gieseking’s Columbia 78s, where Grieg’s Piano Concerto fans the flames, Liszt’s E flat inspires some exquisitely tooled pianism and Franck’s Symphonic Variations responds both to highly idiomatic phrasing (Gieseking was a real master in French repertoire) and spot-on conducting from Henry Wood. Gieseking’s second (wartime) recording of the Grieg is now said not to have been conducted by Furtwängler (a long-standing misattribution), although no one could mistake Furtwängler’s interpretative personality behind a stunning 1951 Salzburg Otello, where Wagner looms large, especially in the Credo, love duet and final scene. Ramon Vinay’s Otello is even more tortured than that under Toscanini while, once in its stride, the Vienna Philharmonic leaps at every bar with lightning reflexes. It’s a draining experience, one that may call for a soothing night-cap: Schumann lieder, perhaps, as sung at Salzburg nine years later by that most warming of post-war German sopranos, Irmgard Seefried. ‘Die Lotosblume’ or ‘Der Nussbaum’, in particular, will surely calm even the most troubled spirit, and the recordings are first-rate.