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Dvorak: Symphony No. 9 in E minor (From the New World); The Water Goblin

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Dvořák
Symphony No. 9 in E minor (From the New World); The Water Goblin
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Teldec 3984-25254-2

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Harnoncourt’s performances of Dvořák’s Seventh and Eighth Symphonies have to date excited near-universal enthusiasm. The hallmark of his readings is a scrupulous attention to detail that liberates these well-known works from anything that could be described as routine. His rendition of the New World is without question a revelation. Listeners and interpreters alike will benefit hugely from a pervasive unfussiness and respect for Dvorák’s orchestration that penetrates deep into the fabric of the work.

Every line that Dvorák intended to emerge shines through with persuasive force; perhaps the most exciting aspect of this approach is the way in which the lower strings and wind instruments are given the opportunity to participate fully in the performance. Nor is there any danger of Harnoncourt failing to see the wood for the trees: his strongly Classical, one is tempted to say, central European reading of the work has a clear sense of line which nevertheless does not compromise a strong sense of the Symphony’s essential originality. And for all its directness, Harnoncourt does not eschew rich sentiment – witness the solo string-playing of the slow movement’s celebrated big tune: a heart-stopping moment despite the relatively fast tempo.

Anyone who cares about this work should certainly acquire this recording; the only thing that prevents me from placing it at the top the list is that it doesn’t communicate fully the Symphony’s buoyant enthusiasm. Though I will certainly return to Harnoncourt’s performance with relish, Kertész captures the soul of the work more satisfyingly.

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Jan Smaczny