Dvorák: Symphonies 1-3/Neumann

Review by: David Hurwitz

Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 9

Václav Neumann’s Dvorák cycle certainly stands with the classic sets by Kubelik, Kertesz, and Rowicki, and it’s better recorded (by far) than any of them. Still Neumann has been dogged principally by the fact that he was not Karel Ancerl, despite being a fine conductor in his own right. His principal weakness seems to have been a sort of stiffness that could on occasion paralyze his ability to make the music flow (sort of like Horenstein’s chronic tempo problems, though on a much smaller scale). Here however it’s all smooth sailing. Even where Neumann takes special care over rhythmic detail, such as the five-note accompaniment figures in the First Symphony’s opening movement, or in the deliberate but hair-trigger precise finale of the Third Symphony, the result has the effect of giving the music an extra breadth and weight.

Perhaps the best performance in this set, however, is of the gorgeous Second Symphony. Dvorák was right to revise this early work and have it published later in his life, and it is fully characteristic of him. The third movement remains his largest and most melodically abundant scherzo, and who can fail to thrilled at the finale’s second subject–a widely ranging melody accompanied by ear-catching, ponticello string tremolos? Neumann is also at his very best here, to say nothing of the incomparable Czech Philharmonic, which offers playing that pretty much eclipses the competition in charm, rhythmic snap, and sheer timbral beauty. Sonically speaking, Supraphon made some of the very best early digital recordings, and so they remain. A must-have if you love Dvorák. [3/1/2003]

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: This One, Rowicki (Philips), Kubelik (DG)

ANTONIN DVORÁK - Symphonies Nos. 1-3

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