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COMPOSERS: Dvorak/Brahms
WORKS: Symphonic Variations Op. 78; Czech Suite Op. 39; Hungarian Dances
PERFORMER: NDR SO/John Eliot Gardiner
John Eliot Gardiner is nothing if not versatile. Equally at home on the twin peaks of Monteverdi and Mozart, he’s also proved himself to be a notable interpreter of opera. I’m not sure, however, that his talents really stretch to standard, non-operatic, 19th-century fodder, played by a modern symphony orchestra. Romantic music, with its seamless line, demands a very different set of responses and performing habits from those of Baroque music. Gardiner presents Dvorák’s Symphonic Variations, for instance, as a set of individual vignettes with no distinctive overview. Part of the problem stems from Gardiner’s somewhat mannered approach to rubato, a calculated application from without rather than an instinctive agent of expression. The Czech Suite and the Hungarian Dances fare little better, only highlighting the danger of assuming that innate musicianship alone can carry a performer through wildly different repertoire. In our age of historical awareness, nothing could be further from the truth as, ironically, Gardiner, the ‘period performer’, has so strikingly demonstrated in the music he knows and understands best, not, or at least not yet, Dvorák and Brahms. Antony Bye