José Serebrier’s new Dvořák cycle ranks with Kubelík’s, Kertesz’s, and Rowicki’s sadly overshadowed but excellent set. For me, the last three symphonies are usually the least interesting and revealing – as here, where they’re perfectly OK but unremarkable (the third movement of the Eighth lacks the sinuous elegance of other readings). Where this cycle scores is in the performances of the neglected Second, Fifth and Sixth Symphonies and the generous addition of other major works such as the Legends, the delightful Scherzo Capriccioso, the masterful concert overture In Nature’s Realm and a selection of Slavonic Dances in radiant performances, the Bournemouth players in top form.
No young composer was more prolix than Dvořák (one of his early string quartets lasts 70 minutes!), as demonstrated in the First Symphony, subtitled The Bells Of Zlonice where the youthful rhetoric runs unchecked. The three-movement Third and the Fourth (whose last movement always reminds me of a bizarrely titled song I heard as a child on the ABC Argonauts programme: “Dashing away with a smoothing iron, she stole my heart away”) are interesting, but the Second Symphony, long a favourite of mine, is more disciplined and Serebrier has its measure, making it a real youthful masterpiece, ripe for exposure at something like a London Prom.
The lovely pastoral Fifth (like Beethoven’s in F Major) is both gentle and dramatic; the masterful Sixth (where Serebrier does the First movement exposition repeat, which, although discouraged by the composer, I feel is indispensable to the architecture of this marvelous movement). My only quibble is that the timpani outburst at the climax has not been captured as vividly as it was on the Rowicki version on Philips). The CDs are all well filled and the sound is gorgeous.