WORKS: Slavonic Dances, Op. 46 & 72
PERFORMER: CO of Europe/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
CATALOGUE NO: 8573-81038-2
Harnoncourt has an impressive track record as a Dvorák interpreter, with some landmark performances on disc of the composer’s later symphonies and symphonic poems. This new recording of the two sets of Slavonic Dances sets the seal on a well-deserved reputation. Along with the best interpreters of these works, notably Karel Šejna, Harnoncourt interacts with the rhythms of the dances rather than hammering them out with overly forced accentuation. Another feature which immediately sets this issue apart from all other versions is the astonishing clarity of the orchestral sound. I have never heard so much detail in a performance, live or recorded: pizzicato lines and fine woodwind-writing that are frequently submerged appear with remarkable clarity. Interpretatively, these performances are well ahead of the field. While engaging with the charms of the third dance and the grace of the last, Harnoncourt never courts the kind of sentimentality that frequently mars performances. He also has an unrivalled ear for Dvorák’s abundant counter-melodies: thus, for example, the all-important cello line at the start of the fourth dance emerges as the engine of development that it is, and in the 12th dance Harnoncourt’s uncanny ability to bring out all the melodic ideas reveals a depth of poignancy that in most performances only remains latent. Given that the recording was made from a live performance, the accuracy of ensemble is almost miraculous. While I would not throw away Šejna’s lovely performances, Harnoncourt’s go straight to the top of my list – one of the most refreshing recordings I have heard in years.