Dvořák’s Symphonies Nos 1-9 performed by the Czech Philharmonic, conducted by Jiří Bělohlávek

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: EuroArts
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 1-9
PERFORMER: Czech Philharmonic/Jiří Bělohlávek


Jiří Bělohlávek’s track record in this repertoire marks him out as one of the leading Dvořák interpreters of the day, and this beautifully presented, excellently recorded series of DVDs will only enhance his reputation. The production, filmed in the Rudolfinum’s superb Dvořák Hall – the Czech Philharmonic’s home – captures solos and sectional playing intelligently and unobtrusively. There are introductions to each movement – these can be skipped over – offering slightly cosy anecdotal information although Bělohlávek’s contributions on the music are unfailingly interesting. There is also a much more substantial documentary on aspects of Dvořák's life and the symphonies; it is a little drawn out, but there are plenty of insights and Bělohlávek’s understated passion and care for the music always emerges convincingly.

Bělohlávek’s predominantly fast tempos in the first two symphonies allow vast panoramas to emerge with no danger of their collapsing under their own weight; the performance of the Second is particularly fine and allows its radiance and imagination to emerge unhindered. The same approach works less well in the Third, whose magnificent first movement feels a little constricted. Bělohlávek makes the best of the Fourth Symphony’s virtues, emphasising lyrical aspects and bringing a convincing swagger to the scherzo. The performances of the more Classically-orientated middle symphonies are all splendid; in each, compelling attention to detail never threatens symphonic integrity. The flexibility Bělohlávek adopts in the first movement of the Eighth and wholehearted embrace of the wide-ranging narratives of the slow movement and finale produce a rendition of breathtaking conviction. The performance of the New World is unfailingly expert and beautifully played if lacking the last ounce of excitement. Overall these readings rank with some of the finest, and throughout radiate a profound authenticity.


Jan Smaczny