WORKS: Dvorák: Symphonies Nos 7 & 8
PERFORMER: SWR Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra/Roger Norrington
CATALOGUE NO: 93.277
Five years separate the premieres of Dvorˇák’s Symphonies Nos 7 and 8, yet they inhabit quite different expressive worlds. Despite some Wagnerian colouration, the Seventh is the composer’s closest approach to Brahms; the Eighth Symphony could hardly be more dissimilar with its adventurous form, extreme moods and abundant melody. The interpretative demands are equally disparate and not every conductor deals well with both works.
In these performances, the interpretative stakes are raised by Roger Norrington’s cultivation of orchestral string playing that eschews vibrato. The radically different effect will not appeal to all. While the string sound is more focused, it is also slighter and throws more emphasis onto the wind and brass, and the players of the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra step up at every stage. The downside in a work with such a strong linear dynamic as the Seventh is that key moments do not really tell: the first movement’s recapitulation is disappointing, the Scherzo feels mechanical and much of the Finale lacks a sense of weight. On the other hand, the slow movement is mostly delightful. The orchestral blend at the start of the Eighth is certainly ear-catching, but the slow movement is not particularly coherent and the ravishing third movement is damagingly leaden.
Many may respond to Norrington’s reimagined sound-world, but Marin Alsop is more satisfying in the Seventh and Charles Mackerras far preferable in the Eighth. Jan Smaczny