WORKS: Symphony No. 7; The Wood Dove
PERFORMER: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/ Nikolaus Harnoncourt
CATALOGUE NO: 3984-21278-2
Szell established his credentials as a fine Dvorákian with his landmark 1937 recording of the Cello Concerto with Casals. The qualities which made that recording so striking, a strong sense of forward motion without inflexibility, are immediately apparent here. The command of line in the Seventh Symphony’s first movement is especially impressive. As a whole, however, this is a less convincing performance than that of the Eighth which, apart from the third movement, is among the best, with excellently judged tempi in the finale. Szell’s reading of the New World Symphony was a leader in its day and retains its classic status: authoritative and human without falling into sentimentality. The various makeweights on this two-disc reissue are all worth having, in particular Szell’s startling orchestration of Smetana’s First String Quartet; with its vivid approach to thematic recall and characterisation, the orchestral treatment brings out the work’s symphonic dimension.
Harnoncourt’s new recording of the Seventh Symphony is remarkable. His astonishing care over articulation and instrumental detail catapults it to near the top of the list of recommendable versions. Close listening will pay huge dividends; in the slow movement in particular many new dimensions of Dvorák’s sound-world are revealed. Ultimately, however, despite a terrific finale, I missed a sense of excitement (much the same is true of Harnoncourt’s superbly coloured performance of The Wood Dove on the same issue). There is discovery aplenty, but not quite the level of joy and enthusiasm that Kertesz conveys on his, now vintage, recording for Decca. Jan Smaczny