Review by: Victor Carr Jr
Artistic Quality: 8
Sound Quality: 9
Libor Pešek’s Dvorák cycle, recorded by Virgin between 1987 and 1996, has now been re-packaged into an eight-CD budget box. Most of the competitive sets, including Deutsche Grammophon’s recent reissue of the Kubelik/Berlin Philharmonic cycle, comprise only six discs, but Pešek’s also includes a generous selection of tone poems, suites, and overtures. (Plus, at my local Tower Records shop, the Pešek was actually priced less than the Kubelik.) As performances, this set has much to offer. Pešek has an innate feel for the music’s Czech pulse, though this bears out differently according to the orchestra involved. Generally, the Royal Liverpool readings are more incisive, while the Czech Philharmonic’s possess a beautiful, home-grown quality. Overall these performances lack the biting dramatic edge of Kubelik, Rowicki, and Kertész, and instead offer a more bucolic lyricism.
The sheer sound of the wonderful Czech orchestra is a delight in Symphonies 2, 4, 5, and 6, as well as in the Czech suite, In Nature’s Realm, Othello, and My Home. Symphony No. 2 is the most straight-laced of the lot, which is a detriment in this over-written and sometimes rambling work–it really needs the clarifying of Rowicki or Järvi to sound cohesive. On the other hand, No. 4 is a powerful performance that fully realizes the music’s drama, and one of the best available. In No. 5, Pešek marvelously spins out the first movement’s irresistible melodies, and No. 6 also has a delightfully gentle flow, but Kubelik’s dramatic and vividly colored readings (especially his unsurpassed accounts of No. 5’s finale and No. 6’s scherzo) easily make you forget Pešek’s.
Turning to the Liverpool recordings, Pešek’s exciting performances of Symphony No. 3, Scherzo Capriccioso, and Carnival Overture remain unvarnished triumphs. No. 1 is fine performance too, graced by a highly atmospheric rendition of The Wild Dove. Symphonies 7-9, the first to be released in the series, are first-rate (No. 8 is particularly exciting) and stand firmly alongside many others in the catalog–though I would be remiss if I did not urge you to hear Colin Davis’ Concertgebouw recordings on a Philips Duo. The American Suite (which shares a disc with the No. 9) is another welcome addition. The recorded sound is warmer on the Czech than on the Liverpool recordings, which have a bit more clarity. While for me this won’t replace Kubelik’s masterful set (admittedly recorded in less ideally appealing sound), Pešek’s does provide a fine modern budget alternative to the three classic versions.
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Recording Details:Reference Recording: Kubelik/DG, Rowicki/Philips, Kertész/Decca, Jarvi/Chandos
ANTON DVORÁK - Symphonies Nos. 1-9; Scherzo capriccioso; The Wild Dove; My Home; Carnival Overture; In Nature's Realm; Czech Suite; American Suite