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Dvorak Symphonies 6 and 9
Swedish Chamber Orchestra / Dausgaard


On these bright, fresh, chamber orchestra performances, these two symphonies take on a new identity. Predictably, they sound more like the serenades (Op. 22 and 44) or the Czech Suite, lithe rather than flabby, any weaknesses of structure disguised by the energy and movement.

In symphony 6, the wind and brass benefit particularly; the intimacy of the interplay between brass and strings in the first movement second subject and the immediacy of the flute solo in the trio cannot be surpassed by bigger forces. Indeed, the whole of the scherzo and trio has an enviable sprightliness. With the New World, the over-familiarity of the work mean that hearing it here with fresh, chamber ears is all the better. It is as if stripping the excess weight from the textures also rids the symphony of its sentimental associations.

At other times, notably during the avowedly march-like opening to the finale of No. 9, or the expansive portions of the slow movement of No 6, one hankers for more grandeur, or simply more oomph. The Northern Sinfonia Brahms and Schumann performances recently reviewed in these pages makes an apt comparison; there, Schumann’s supposed infelicities of orchestration are vindicated by the smaller forces. Here, one feels that Dvorak sometimes indeed asked for effects that required more players.

You are unlikely to want exactly this coupling of symphonies, but if you do, you have no other choice. This must be the first ever coupling of symphonies 6 and 9 on a single CD. Why? Because the disc runs to 82 minutes, part of the new fashion, as pressings become ever more reliable, to offer the purchaser extra value for money (and also defeat copying, since the material will not fit on a normal CD-R).  In any case, these are fine, recommendable performances, with excellent playing and direction, and fine modern recording.

Dvorak is well served on disc, and in particular the two complete sets of the symphonies by the Czechs Istvan Kertesz (Decca) and Raphael Kubelik (DG) are towering landmarks. Both manage to strike the ideal balance between Dvorak’s Brahmsian symphonic structures, and his propensity for folksy sweetness; Kertesz in particular is one of the few conductors to make the early symphonies sound convincing. Haitink’s and Colin Davis’ sets of Symphonies 7-9 are also fine, classically-minded readings; the list of recommendable New Worlds is of course very long.

Ying Chang