Dvorak: Symphonies Nos 5 & 6; The Hero’s Song, op. 11; Scherzo capriccioso

COMPOSERS: Dvorak
LABELS: Warner
ALBUM TITLE: Dvorak: Symphonies Nos 5 & 6; The Hero’s Song, op. 11; Scherzo capriccioso
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 5 & 6; The Hero’s Song, op. 11; Scherzo capriccioso
PERFORMER: BBC Symphony Orchestra/Jirí Belohlávek
CATALOGUE NO: 2564 63235-2

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Had Dvorák not composed his last three symphonies, we might have heard much more of his Fifth and Sixth. There are few more seductive openings to a symphony than that of the Fifth with its gently undulating strings and chirruping woodwind; the miracle is that Dvorák sustains this level of invention throughout this relatively early work. While it would be a misleading exaggeration to say that the Sixth Symphony is more assured, it is one of Dvorák’s most perfectly rounded orchestral works with magnificently wideranging outer movements and arguably his finest symphonic Furiant by way of a scherzo. The two best reasons for buying this set are Belohlávek’s landmark performances of The Hero’s Song and the Sixth Symphony. Puzzlingly, his reading of the Scherzo capriccioso is lacking in infectious bounce and his way with the Fifth Symphony, while often attractive, has some rather exaggerated rubato and surprising rough edges; certainly this recording does not challenge Jansons’ marvellously fresh account. These reservations aside, the performance of Dvorák’s last symphonic poem is near-revelatory. Conductors so often fail to make much of this mysterious piece, but Belohlávek treats it to almost Mahlerian expansiveness and makes perfect sense of its mood swings from neurosis to exultation. Equally splendid is the performance of the Sixth Symphony in which each movement expands with natural impetus and in which every detail is lovingly crafted. Superbly played and very well recorded, this performance challenges B?lohlávek’s own benchmark recording on Chandos and Kertész’s now vintage reading on Decca.

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Jan Smaczny