Mariss Janson continues his survey of Dvorak with an energy and style reminiscent of Vaclav Talich.
DVORAK: Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88; Carnival Overture, Op. 93; SUK: Serenade for Strings in E Major, Op. 6 – Bavarian Radio Sym, Orch./ Mariss Jansons – BR Klassik 900145, 73:14 (4/8/16) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
BR Klassik offers the recordings of the two concerts performed in the Philharmonie in Gasteig on January 29 and 30, 2016, the results of which prove quite compelling, as if Jansons were determined to prove himself the legitimate heir to the Vaclav Talich hegemony in Dvorak’s music. The 1890 G Major Symphony has had many fine interpretations on record, including a pair of sympathetic readings by Bruno Walter. Collectors no less treasure the classic interpretations by Talich and Beecham. Eminently lyrical and pantheistic, the symphony abounds in evocations of nature, such as bird calls and trills, warblings, and “the joy of green pastures, of summer evenings, of the melancholy of blue forests, and of the carefree merrymaking of Czech peasants,” to cite Talich himself. Perhaps, in deference to his own master Smetana, Dvorak wished to pay homage to those “Bohemian Meadows and Forests” that the older composer had immortalized in Ma Vlast.
From the outset, the Bavarian Radio ensemble projects a resonantly intense patina of sound, responsive in the woodwinds, and lush in the strings and horns. The alternation of G Major and g minor – subjective introspection and pastoral hymns – flows in the course of a subtle sonata-form first movement whose seamlessness hides its structural continuity. The Adagio contains a kind of “fate” motif responsive to the flute’s bird calls and orisons. Although the music assumes a dirge-like affect, low in the strings and clarinets, and erupting from the French horn and tympani, the tragedy or menace seems subdued by the natural landscape evoked in the tripping figures and fluid melody that emerges late in the movement. A sweet descending scale, much in the manner of Tchaikovsky, lulls us to the conclusion, even though some sense of Nature’s fury remains with us.
The most intrinsically beguiling movement – Allegretto grazioso – proffers a g minor serenade/waltz of exquisite melancholy, but no less inhabited by bird calls and tripping woodland figures. A smooth segue into G Major marks the syncopated trio section, whose soaring melody has a fateful martial underpinning. Jansons adds a touch of portamento to accent the lyric sentiment of the folk, and the music returns da capo to the tender waltz with a sensitivity I associate with both Talich and Fricsay. The scurrying coda has its moment of severity, but the woodwinds dispel any tragedy with hearty folk filigree. The last movement, Allegro ma non troppo, opens with a brass fanfare and tympani riff from which the cellos deliver a hearty melody again martial in the bass line. Dvorak cultivates his variation technique – much in evidence in his Op. 78 – to signal a series of virtuoso gestures that includes another brilliant flute part as well trumpet triple-tonguing. The music moves into the forever-fateful c minor with a resolute dexterity that manages to combine a series of rhythmic contours. Wilhelm Meister’s superb sound-mix has us attentive each and every acoustical interaction.
Josef Suk (1874-1935) composed his 1892 Serenade in E Major in the Bohemian tradition inspired by his father-in-law Dvorak, especially that idol’s own Op. 22. Jansons bestows melodic largesse on the first movement, Andante con moto. The intimate, folk character finds support in moments of concertante violin playing from the Bavarian Radio concertmaster. Something of Schubert infiltrates the second movement, Allegro, ma non troppo e grazioso, a light scherzo/waltz whose buoyant character reveals deft scoring and rhythmic acumen. The Trio in G-flat Major, might be Suk’s answer to an Austrian laendler. Suk divides his strings for the expansive G Major Adagio, a tender moment that has its own, modal digressions into melancholy. Gorgeous tones from the Bavarian cellos, violas, and second violins warrant the price of admission. Cyclic in character, Suk draws upon motives in the first movement for his finale, Allegro giocoso. Rather boldly, Suk exhibits his capacity for polyphony, along with superb scoring for the low strings. Jansons and ensemble – much in the tradition of Talich – render a performance that reminds us that none other than Brahms, who heard the work in 1894, recommended that Simrock publish it, a suggestion granted in 1896.
The 1891 Carnival Overture originally completed a triptych entitled Nature, Life and Love. Dvorak separated the works – In Nature’s Realm, Othello, and Carnival – and gave each an opus number. In his expressed program, Dvorak depicts a wanderer who comes upon a festive nightfall scene, a clangorous, hilarious carnival rife with tambourines, triangle, and frenzied, dance tunes. Though Talich recorded the piece, the first impression I had of this galvanizing piece came from Antal Dorati. Janson urges the music on with an undeniable, galloping flair, even molding the quiet dialogue of flute and oboe with tender, loving care.