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Dvorak: Symphony No. 9 / Smetana: Vltava…

Dvorak: Symphony No. 9 / Smetana: Vltava [Karajan, DG]

by Antonín Dvorák

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Antonín Dvořák (1841–1904)

Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95 “From the New World”

[1] I. Adagio – Allegro molto [9’58]
[2] II. Largo [12’27]
[3] III. Molto vivace [8’36]
[4] IV. Allegro con fuoco [11’25]

Bedřich Smetana (1824–1884)
[5] Vltava (Die Moldau) [12’40]
[5.1] Allegro. The First Source of the Moldau – [0’00]
[5.2] The Second Source – [0’27]
[5.3] Woods; Hunt – [2’49]
[5.4] L’istesso tempo ma moderato. Peasant Wedding – [3’46]
[5.5] L’istesso tempo. Moonlight; Nymphs’ Roundelay – [5’39]
[5.6] Tempo I. St. John’s Rapids – [8’59]
[5.7] Più moto. The Moldau flows broadly onward [10’18]
[5.8] Vyšehrad [10’53]

Wiener Philharmoniker
Herbert von Karajan

Recorded: 2/1985 (Dvorak) & 5/1985 (Smetana), Grosser Saal, Musikverein, Vienna.

Deutsche Grammophon, n.d. 55'12. Karajan Gold. Liner notes by Michael Kennedy.


This mighty recording of Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony, Karajan’s sixth, last and greatest of this perennial masterpiece, is better experienced on DVD. Like many of his productions during the 1980s, it was made for and released in both audio and video versions. It is the same recording in the same sound, but the latter is better on the DVD and the visual dimension is not to be missed. Not that there is anything wrong with the sound on the CD. The curious brass misbalance, the trumpets being considerably louder than the horns and trombones, is not such a problem as one might expect. It rather adds to the music’s majesty. On the other hand, some people may object that the sound is not natural and they do have a point: it is nothing like what you can hear in the concert hall, or even what you could have heard under Karajan’s own baton. I understand this objection, but I am not bothered by it. In any case, the sound is quite good enough to appreciate, even if you don’t like, Karajan’s idiosyncratic interpretation.

The bonus track is Karajan’s seventh and last attempt at Smetana’s most famous piece. “Vltava” is that rare kind of work that can be experienced with equal pleasure as a pictorial representation of the river’s journey and as a piece of absolute music. It is a subtle and delicate work, beautifully orchestrated and very well constructed. I’ve never heard a Karajan recording of it which is less than superb and this one is no exception. The sound is crystal clear and the amount of detail is spectacular in both the quietest moments (the nymphs at moonlight) and the loudest passages (the rapids). It’s quite a journey in every sense of the word. Those discerning listeners who like to compare the sound of the Vienna Philharmonic with that of their Berlin colleagues would like to compare this recording with the one Karajan made in the German capital less than two years earlier for the same label. I find it hard to imagine a more pointless exercise.

PS By the way, “Vyšehrad” in the end of the program refers not only to the famous fort on Vltava, but also to another symphonic poem from Smetana’s cycle Ma Vlast (My Fatherland). Karajan recorded only once (1967, DG) this majestic work, thematically and ingeniously related to “Vltava”. ( )
  Waldstein | Jun 17, 2017 |
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