WORKS: The Golden Spinning-Wheel; The Noonday Witch; The Water Goblin; The Wood Dove
PERFORMER: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/ Nikolaus Harnoncourt
CATALOGUE NO: 2564-60221-2
Snootier commentators have always tended to look down on Dvorák’s late symphonic poems. For those who believe that he was at his best when adopting the Brahmsian high ground, the descent into programme music has always been a problem. But these colourful works, based on the characteristically gruseome material beloved of 19th-century folklorists, possess in abundance the elemental qualities that account for the New World Symphony’s runaway success and the inspired lyricism of Dvorák’s last three operas, composed shortly after the symphonic poems.
Harnoncourt’s account of these works is hugely impressive. His customary scrupulous attention to tempo and orchestration pays dividends everywhere in these brilliantly colourful scores. He finds depth, bringing a Romantic intensity to the end of The Golden Spinning-Wheel unmatched since Chalabala in 1961 (Supraphon). He also proves himself a master of atmosphere in the creepier passages of The Water Goblin and The Noonday Witch. My only quibble is in The Wood Dove, where he doesn’t quite manage the sense of the time passing after the central scherzo. This aside, these are highly recommendable performances, all but The Golden Spinning-Wheel previously appearing as couplings to his recordings of the last three symphonies; it’s a shame, however, that the opportunity to include Dvorák’s remaining late symphonic poem, The Hero’s Song, was missed, especially since the recordings are spread across two CDs.