DVORAK: Slavonic Dances (comp.) – Czech Phil./ Jiri Belohlavek – Decca

Do we need another of these? Maybe not, but we definitely need THIS one!

DVORAK: Slavonic Dances (complete) – Czech Phil./ Jiri Belohlavek – Decca 478 9458, 76:08 [Distr. by Universal] *****:

From the opening bars of the first Opus 46 dance, I was afraid I was going to be unimpressed. I didn’t like the tempo, especially after becoming accustomed to the barn-burning exercises of Levi and Kubelik. But the underlying pulsation, so intense and provocative, and the absolutely shimmering extremes of the strings convinced me otherwise. And so it would become the norm for the rest of this disc. It is, quite simply, a miracle of subtlety and grace, with some of the most pungent colors ever available on a recording.

Even in the Opus 72, a set written in response to the first, Dvorak is quite a different composer. Gone is the freshness and vitality that so characterize the first effort, with its uncomplicated directness and melodic charm. What we get instead is a much cleverer and thoughtful artist, one who is taking far more pains with the orchestration and details present in more minute cells of phrasing and even contemplation. As a result, this second set lacks the popularity of the first, and what often works well for 46 falls flat in 72. Not here. Belohlavek is stunning in his ability to convey the intricacies and sheer joy present in 72, wallowing in the orchestral beauties and forging and important link between the two sets without forcing a one-size-fits-all schema upon them. I can honestly say that this is the most convincing Opus 72 I have ever heard, and I believe that my belated acceptance of the things I thought I was missing in 46 are because of the illuminating factors the conductor uncovers in 72.

This is not a SACD. But aside from the surround sound, you will be hard pressed to discover the difference, so broad, deep, and wide-ranging the capture of the orchestra. It is a beautiful thing to behold, and the Decca engineers who set it all down in Dvorak Hall in Prague have a lot to be proud of. This is an essential recording.

—Steven Ritter

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