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Dvorak: Symphony No. 7 in D minor; Symphony No. 9 in E minor (From the New World)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

WORKS: Symphony No. 7 in D minor; Symphony No. 9 in E minor (From the New World)
PERFORMER: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/ Carlo Maria Giulini
Sombre and urgent matters underlie Dvorák’s Seventh Symphony. Its opening theme occurred to the composer while watching the arrival of a train in Prague, but it is much more than the idle fancy of an enthusiastic train spotter: the train contained anti-Habsburg patriots. Unfortunately, Giulini homes in on the sombre rather than the urgent aspects of the work. Tempi are slow and he has a tendency to dwell unduly on small details; as he stoops to pick each wayside flower, the pace flags, with fatal results.

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This is a great pity since so much of the interpreting and playing is deeply intelligent – counter-melodies, which so many conductors fail to notice, appear here in their full glory. Much the same is true of his way with the New World Symphony.

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Masur’s performance of Dvorák’s Eighth could hardly be more of a contrast; lively, affectionate and perceptive, he is both sensitive to detail and careful to maintain impetus. The recording is based on concert performances in which the New York Philharmonic projects an infectious spontaneity. If Masur doesn’t quite displace Mackerras’s excellent rendition with the London Philharmonic from the top of my list, his recording, coupled with a more than dependable reading of Janácek’s Sinfonietta, is certainly one to treasure. Jan Smaczny