Dvorak: Symphony No. 9 in E minor (From the New World)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Dvorak
LABELS: LSO Live
WORKS: Symphony No. 9 in E minor (From the New World)
PERFORMER: LSO/Colin Davis
CATALOGUE NO: LSO 0001 (available from www.lso.co.uk or tel 020 7638 8891)
In a crowded market, any new performance of one of the world’s most popular symphonies must make a statement. Dvorák’s seductive blend of rhythmic vitality and lyricism, gently shaded by spirituals, responds best to a strong sense of line and minimal sentimentality. These two concert performances are close in tempi (apart from the slow movements), but are otherwise utterly different. Abbado’s focus on timbral beauty has the first movement loping along amiably enough, but there is none of the febrile excitement that can really make it fly. The playing of the LSO for Colin Davis does not quite match that of the Berlin Philhamonic, but it communicates so much more: the rhythms swing and there is a pervasive feeling for line that generates some superb climaxes. Where Abbado is literal (ploddingly so in parts of the slow movement), almost at pains to avoid making a statement, Davis offers a story and a sense of conviction that place his performance in a wholly different league, if not quite in that of Kertész’s evergreen, and now vintage, Decca recording.

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Davis’s Eighth Symphony is still more compelling. He is both expressive and intelligent in integrating the seemingly disparate, but subtly unified, melodies of the first movement. More successfully than on any other recording, he captures the slow movement’s elusive heart of darkness and extends its poignancy, without a hint of slush, into the third movement, producing an almost Mahlerian resonance. A superb finale crowns a performance that certainly equals, perhaps even transcends Mackerras’s benchmark recording. Jan Smaczny