Dvorak: Legends; Notturno, Op. 40; Miniatures, Op. 75a; Prague Waltzes

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COMPOSERS: Dvorak
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Legends; Notturno, Op. 40; Miniatures, Op. 75a; Prague Waltzes
PERFORMER: Budapest Festival Orchestra/Iván Fischer
CATALOGUE NO: 464 647-2
Dvorák’s Legends are a marvel: their exquisite melodies and wistful poetry captivated Brahms and drove their dedicatee, the critic Hanslick, into an ecstasy of admiration. They were originally written for piano duet, but Dvorák orchestrated them, adding greatly to texture and colouring.

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Unfortunately, Iván Fischer and his players rarely respond to this aspect of these exquisite miniatures. Their basic approach is forceful, which works in some of the more rhythmically direct numbers like the first and fourth, but with some unfocused string lines, the effect is often hectoring. Elsewhere, tenderness is often read as self-indulgence: the latter part of the middle section of the sixth – lifted from the slow movement of the Third Symphony – turns into a sentimental quagmire.

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As a whole, these performances are far from disastrous, but they rarely rise to the abundant finesse of the pieces. The makeweights comprise the richly textured, early Notturno – a gem from Dvorák’s experimental years – a somewhat rudimentary arrangement of his Miniatures for string trio, and the Prague Waltzes in which these fine players, with appropriate rhythmic emphasis and panache, finally come into their own. Jan Smaczny