Classical CD Reviews

DVORAK: Symphony No. 2 in B-flat Major; Slavonic Dances: No. 3 in A-flat Major; No. 7 in C Major; No. 6 in D Major – Bournemouth Sym. Orch./ Jose Serebrier – Warner Classics

The fourth of Jose Serebrier’s incursions into the Dvorak symphony cycle reveals the long-neglected beauties of the composer’s 1865 Second Symphony.

Published on November 18, 2013

DVORAK: Symphony No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 4; Slavonic Dances: No. 3 in A-flat Major, Op. 46; No. 7 in C Major, Op. 72; No. 6 in D Major, Op. 46 – Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/ Jose Serebrier – Warner Classics 2564 64527-6, 65:23 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Recorded 3-4 June 2013, the latest installment of the projected Dvorak symphony cycle by Jose Serebrier gives us the fourth volume: the major opus on this disc, the Symphony No. 2 in B-flat Major, was composed between August and October 1865, but it did not receive its world premiere until some twenty-three years later, in 1888. Apocryphal reports claim that Dvorak, in the throes of unrequited love – for Josefina Cermakova – and financial straits, could not afford to have his score bound, and the binder refused to return the manuscript. The actual publication of the music did not occur until 1959.

Serebrier opens his program with three Slavonic Dances from the Op. 46 (1878) set: the erotic polka in A-flat Major gambols in a leisurely but sporadically explosive temper. The harmonious middle section instrumentation enjoys a grand sonority from the Bournemouth players, much in the fashion of that other Dvorak master, Vaclav Talich.  The C Major Slavonic Dance from Op. 72 proffers a wild kolo, a Serbian dance that has feet and hearts palpitating at every measure.  Its middle section features a deep rustic ground and rising, militant melody that Dvorak soon transforms into a bucolic lied before the rousing da capo sweeps us away, trumpets, tympani, and cymbals in full glory.  The D Major sousedska lilts and sways in the manner of a laendler, only more nostalgically passionate. The flute enjoys a nice part in the midst of the gracious middle section.

The spirit of Brahms and Wagner immediately announces itself at the Symphony’s outset, but Dvorak walks his own path in the melody proper. Bucolic and romantically atmospheric, the Allegro con moto exhibits the sonata-form structure typical of the German school, the energy often in the Beethoven mode, but the interior open-work reveals a canny sense of color and nuance, well beyond the composer’s twenty-four years. The dramatic content, too, becomes quite inflamed and martially epic in scope, easily a model for the writing we know from Richard Strauss. Repeated listening can discern (grazioso) elements that Dvorak will distill into later masterpieces, like the D Minor and E Minor Symphonies. The Bournemouth woodwind and string work, along with the brass, in the last pages beguiles us, as it certainly has Jose Serebrier.

Serbebrier in his program notes, pays particular attention to the succeeding Poco adagio, which he calls “one of Dvorak’s deepest and most extraordinary utterances.” A marvelous love song, it could have easily been a vocal or cello-solo vehicle of equal breadth and intimacy. Strings and muted tympani conspire to weave a delicious fabric, rife with as much beauty as chromatic anguish.  Again, the flute assumes a principal role in the flow of melody that also embraces the oboe, French horns, and strings. A bit of German academicism makes is presence felt in the fugato, lightly and transparently rendered until its bursts into real feeling. The warm glow of the last pages make us sense a kinship between this music and Goldmark’s Rustic Wedding Symphony.

After a dark introduction, the Scherzo bursts into Mendelssohnian fervor, but rendered in “learned” German terms in sonata-development. The ethos here, despite the fleetness of the scoring, seems Wagnerian. Dvorak tosses orchestral weights and textures around in rather experimental figures; he suddenly breaks off to evolve a deep song that at first reminds us Mendelssohn’s The Fair Melusina, but it becomes inflamed with Bohemian impulses. The drops of a semi-tone might ring of Beethoven or Wagner, but the persistent momentum soon yields to the composer’s natural melos. With more development, the tune becomes affirmative and confident, its assertions boldly declamatory.  A gorgeous cello line from the Bournemouth Symphony players aids in the transition to peroration of this fascinating movement.

The Finale: Allegro con fuoco, whatever cuts to which Dvorak subjected it, now moves in colorful strides and periods, martial and lyrical, at once. Dvorak still feels the need to assert his musical “credentials” by a display of polyphony that perhaps the material does not sustain too effectively. But the writing, facile and texturally deft, manages to keep us enthralled. Some harmonic modulations, bold in retrospect, move us into realms of melody in the manner of Schubert. The splicing of the various motifs now encourages us to consider Wagner as the inspiring force, but the power and exultation in the motion belongs to Dvorak sans influences. Serebrier cuts the cord for the last moments – elements of Tannhauser notwithstanding – to bask in a Dvorak moment of apotheosis.

—Gary Lemco




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