* ANTONIN DVORAK: Symphony No. 7 in D minor Op. 70; Symphony No. 8 in G Major Op. 88 – Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/ Marin Alsop – Naxos audio-only Blu-ray with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 or PCM Stereo NBD0010, 74:30 *****:
This and a second Blu-ray of two more Dvorak symphonies are the latest in the series of audio-only Blu-rays which Naxos is releasing as their latest foray into hi-res surround formats — seeing as how they gave up quickly after a few SACD and DVD-Audio releases some time ago. The performances of all four symphonies are superb, and it is satisfying to have Marin Alsop and her Baltimore Symphony in hi-res surround again, since her Brahms First Symphony was such a terrific winner on SACD and then the Second was limited to only standard CD.
The Seventh is the composer’s most dramatic and dark symphony, but still full of lovely melody. It’s long been my personal favorite of Dvorak’s, just as Beethoven’s Seventh is my favorite of those symphonies. The Brahms influence on Dvorak can be heard at many points, but it is usually mixed with the Czech folk flavor of so much of Dvorak’s music. Both symphonies have four movements, with the first two being about the same length and longer than the closing two movements.
No. 8 is from 1889 and is strong in a spirit of Bohemia. The first movement changes frequently from major to minor, as do many of Brahms’ works. A graceful waltz is heard in the third movement, and the finale has a series of variations. The string section tone on both symphonies is especially rich and natural.
The playing is committed and beautifully rendered with the DTS lossless surround. I had to slightly raise the level on the surrounds. The original recordings were 24-bit but only 88.2K – a natural doubling of the 44.1K CD sampling rate. However, the fidelity is excellent, though I cannot say it is better than most SACDs. It is thoughtful of Naxos to provide for easy playback without having to use a video display at all.
— John Sunier