Dvorak: Symphony No. 7

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Dvorak
LABELS: Channel Classics
WORKS: Symphony No. 7; Suite in A (American)
PERFORMER: Budapest Festival Orchestra/Iván Fischer
CATALOGUE NO: CCS SA 30010 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra have developed an enviable reputation for bringing fresh interpretative insight and uninhibited involvement in familiar repertoire. They have proved their mettle where Dvorák is concerned in some fine recordings, notably an excellent CD of the orchestral version of the Legends

Dvorák’s last three symphonies make considerable demands on the performer, not least because of their very wide-ranging personalities. The most successful interpretations of the Seventh engage not only with its high seriousness of purpose, but also its deeply passionate nature that can lead, as in the case of Mackerras’s most recent recording, to an almost operatic character.

Fischer’s approach is certainly involved with the work’s expressive character, but also with Dvorák’s strong symphonic control. The musical argument in the first movement is powerful, but I missed a sense of exultation at the end of the exposition and just before its dark conclusion. The lovely slow movement is also beautifully shaped, but again its climax seems rather muted.

Fischer and the orchestra are at their best in the finale with purposeful development and a spine-tingling close – often the point at which some of the finest interpretations fall down. All told, this is a mixed performance with some moments of uncertain ensemble, but with many appealing features and an engaging performance of the American Suite as a bonus.

Fischer’s Symphony No. 8 is also rather uneven. The first movement is beautifully judged and Fischer finds genuine dramatic depths in the Adagio. Unfortunately, his up-tempo approach to the third movement and use of swoopy portamento seems somewhat at variance with the air of gentle melancholy that haunts the outer sections. There is plenty of enjoyable instrumental detail in the finale, but the faster sections could let rip a little more.

Fischer produces another exemplary performance in the first movement of the New World Symphony: there is a real sense of building excitement in the slow introduction and no undue slackening of pace in the more lyrical moments. Sadly, the magical chords at the start of the Largo are almost thrown away, a pity since the famous melody is beautifully played.

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The scherzo has enormous vibrancy and the finale has persuasive impetus. I would be more than happy to return to this performance, in particular for the fast movements, but as a whole it lacks the rapt sense of discovery that makes Marin Alsop’s interpretation so captivating. Jan Smaczny