DVORAK: Four Tone Poems=The Golden Spinning Wheel; The Wood Dove; The Midday Witch; The Water Goblin – Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Simon Rattle – EMI Classics

by | Aug 16, 2005 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

DVORAK: Four Tone Poems = The Golden Spinning Wheel, Op. 109;
The Wood Dove, Op. 110; The Midday Witch, Op. 108; The Water Goblin,
Op. 107 – Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Simon Rattle – EMI Classics
5 58019 2 (2 discs) 48:46; 34:57 ****:

Respecting the Berlin Philharmonic’s strong sense of the Great European
Tradition, Sir Simon Rattle takes his orchestra through a cycle of
Antonin Dvorak’s programmatic orchestral works of 1896-1897, the tone
poems after the national writer Karel Erben’s 1853 Bouquet of Folk
Tales. Dvorak here rivals Liszt and Smetana for their fertility of
musical invention as well as heroic gestures. Rattle enters a music so
well occupied by the Czech conductor Vaclav Talich, although Rattle
utilizes uncut editions of The Golden Spinning Wheel and The Water
Goblin. If I were to see the glass as merely half full, I would quibble
as to why EMI could not have contracted Rattle to include The Heroic
Song, Op. 111, although Talich did not record it, either.

The Golden Spinning Wheel has a sonorous, lush, orchestral patina, an
excellent sense of pace, and a real feeling for the “and so my
children” extended coda Dvorak mastered to capture the fairy-tale
(albeit horrific) sensibility. The speed of the concluding material
achieves a furiant of startling power. The scale of the conception is
large, reminding me of the Istvan Kertesz inscription with the LSO a
generation ago. The Wood Dove has a casual, unhurried majesty, a
semi-Wagnerian tension and texture whose occasional ventures into B
Minor even recall Tchaikovsky.

The Midday Witch is Dvorak’s answer to Moussorgsky and Liadov’s Baba
Yaga – an often explosive, dramatically potent musical picture. Some of
the bass harmonies are quite daring, especially as they are scored for
contrabassoon and low cellos. The sonata-form development section is a
study for harmony students as well. The brass sections elicit the kind
of glossy impact we had with Karajan, and the final coda realizes an
apotheosis of shimmering proportions. The demonism of The Water Sprite
immediately assaults us, as well as the marvelous economy of Dvorak’s
musical means. Alternately langorous and violent, the virtuoso writing
for orchestra has Rattle’s string and wind sections making transparent
textures eminently lovely. Rattle executes musical transitions
throughout the cycle of poems with silky facility, although I prefer
that EMI engineers not band every episode for each piece. Sonic
splendor prevails, so audiophiles as well as Dvorak lovers should
equally rejoice, especially at mid-price.

–Gary Lemco

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