DVORAK: Symphony No. 6 in D Major, Op. 60; 8 Slavonic Dances, Op. 72 – Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Vaclav Talich – Opus Kura

by | Aug 2, 2009 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

DVORAK: Symphony No. 6 in D Major, Op. 60; 8 Slavonic Dances, Op. 72 – Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Vaclav Talich

Opus Kura OPK 2084, 75:21 [Distrib. by Albany] ****:

When I received the Opus Kura copy of the Dvorak D Major Symphony and Op. 72 Slavonic Dances (rec. 1935), I admit to having a certain consternation, given the recent Talich Edition from Supraphon, which included all the commercial inscriptions made by this great Czech conductor. Talich (1883-1961), unfortunately, never recorded the D Major Symphony for the modern sound era during his brief Indian summer period, 1951-1956.  Moreover, when it comes to the D Major Symphony (old No. 1), I would have preferred that Opus Kura revive the CBS inscription by Erich Leinsdorf and the Cleveland Orchestra, one of a number of now-elusive recordings made by Leinsdorf during his tenure in Cleveland, not to mention those made in Rochester.

So, when I expressed my surprise to Mr. Aihara of Opus Kura, this was his reply:

I understand your shock. When I prepared these recordings, Supraphon started their Talich edition. [So] I had to postponed issuing them. Now King international (distributor of Supraphon) said sales of the Talich Edition had almost stopped, and I issued them to complete our Talich in 78s. Since I am interested in the recordings worth repeated listening, duplication is unavoidable, particularly like Talich edition, and Naxos (they do issue so many titles, probably Obert-Thorn) has a lot of time to transfer. However, Naxos and many small labels seem to delete after rather short availability.

Well, there we are. The D Major Symphony (1880) remains significant, not only for its typical wealth of melodies, but for the composer’s conscious attempt to ingratiate the Viennese audience at its premier with his successful assimilation of (Germanic) sonata-form practice. Its strong Bohemian nature likely influenced Talich to record it at the time in England, especially given Czechoslovakia’s delicate political condition at the time, when sympathetic ears and voices on the international scene might have altered his country’s tragic fate. The approach in the first is bold and heroic–allusions to the Beethoven Eroica Symphony–especially in those passages Dvorak indicates ‘pesante” so to increase the martial effect. The secondary theme in B minor/Major sings with those inner voicings and cross-rhythms at which the composer and Talich, his prime interpreter, excel. The tendency to underline the tonic-dominant stresses jumps at us in canon in the coda, a vehement energy both channeled and clarified in all parts by the impeccable Talich.

The divine B-flat Major Adagio takes its cues from Brahms, especially as it combines aspects of rondo and intermezzo. Woodwinds command our attention consistently, aligning the piece emotionally with the Op. 44 Serenade. When Talich slows the progress down, we can savor the rise of a fourth degree that ties much of the entire symphony together. The transition to B-flat Minor seems to borrow aspects of Wagner in the chromatic instability and texture; but the transition back to the low string statement of the melody in counterpoint is Brahms countrified by this amazing fellow from Bohemia. French horns, oboe, and flute receive my full credit, even if the recording keeps the principals anonymous.  The movement from B-flat to D Major may well point to Beethoven as to the Brahms D Major Symphony as an influence; certainly, Talich elevates the emotional tenor of the central Adagio movement to a status befitting Beethoven.  The D Minor Furiant is all Czech passion (from the song “Sedlak, sedlak”), but taking the Brahms penchant for hemiola–rhythmic alterations to make triple time duple–to intensify the nervous excitement. The CPO strings, courtesy of Talich, project that yearning, searing intensity that counters the horns’ pomposo exclamations. The middle section, in a secure ¾ and D Major/F Major, offers a lovely piccolo solo over warm (often pizzicato) strings and oboe. Fabulous execution in the wild coda’s stretti brings this movement to a close. The last movement–homage to the Brahms Second Symphony–uses the upward fourth to introduce several swaggering playful bucolic themes that Talich balances with rhythmic propulsion and glowing finesse. Wonderful clarity reigns in the often intricate manipulation–and reversal–of the themes in the development, until a grand peroration emerges then segues into more woodwind riffs, the resonant string pedal taking us to the recapitulation and a thrilling coda. That Talich did not record From the New World at this period–it was assigned to Szell and the CPO–is a mystery to me.

From the opening B Major Odzemek that opens the Op. 72 set of Slavonic Dances (1886), we enter a rarified frenzied world of Bohemian rhythms and yearnings. The E Minor Starodavny ingratiates itself to our common nostalgia, as did to Fritz Kreisler. My own predilection is for the D-flat Dumka, a multi-layered song that becomes an immense hymn, an ode to joy. No less exalted and intense is the B-flat Minor Spacirka, whose secondary tune whirls in kaleidoscopic splendor. The No. 7 in C Major, a Serbian Kolo, cuts all the bonds as under Prometheus unbound. I recall seeing it done with Wihans and the CPO in Atlanta on tour. The A-flat Major, a Sousedska, invokes a world of bygone memories, including the cuckoo, to fuse forever our pantheism with scenes of childhood.

— Gary Lemco

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