DVORAK: Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88; Ten Legends, Op. 59 – Bournemouth Sym. Orch./ Jose Serebrier – Warner Classics 0825646287871, 76:42 (9/2/14) ****:
Dvorak composed his ten Legends in 1880 piano four hands, later orchestrating them in 1881 for his publisher Simrock. Dvorak scaled his Legends more modestly than he had his Slavonic Dances, providing no program to their “literary” identity. Their character remains bucolic, nostalgic, bitter-sweet, and intimate, especially given the essentially chamber-orchestra scale of their sonority.
Serebrier and the Bournemouth Symphony (rec. 24 February 2014) realize these innately lyrical works with affection and a poised sense of color. The G Major (No. 2) indulges in pentatonic tunes and somewhat anticipates the “American” scores that would follow in the 1890s. The No. 3 G Minor enjoys a carefree schwung, particularly as has some grand predecessors on record, including the “Lollipop” service it held for Sir Thomas Beecham. The declamatory, martially heroic No. 4 in C Major and the bardic No. 6 in C-sharp Minor retain their respective flow – Dvorak favors triplet figures – with the latter’s quoting from the slow movement of Symphony No. 3 in F. The palpable presence of the harp to the sweet outpourings in No. 5 in A-flat Major imbue the mood with a balletic character. The spirit of Schubert inhabits the laconic No. 7 in A Major. The F Major No. 8 permits Serebrier’s winds and horns to indulge in leisurely hunt or pastoral excursion. A gentle form of Bruckner seems to bounce or jounce the Bohemian rhythms in No. 9 in D Major. The evocation of pastoral serenity informs the nostalgic No. 10 in B-flat Minor, especially from the coloring that surrounds the horn melody.
The Symphony No. 8 in G Major (1889) has enjoyed an unsullied recording history, with outstanding interpretations that embrace distinct personalities, like Bruno Walter, George Szell, Vaclav Talich, Rafael Kubelik, Antal Dorati, Sir Thomas Beecham, and Carlo Maria Giulini. Serebrier bestows a gracious breadth to the opening theme of the G Major Allegro con brio, whose affect transforms from somberly melancholic to exuberantly flamboyant. The principal flute part, assisted by tympani and French horn, add to the bucolic dreamscape, cantabile, that ensues in sonata-allegro form. The color will assume a slighter darker character in the recapitulation, when the English horn takes the main theme in low register. The airy dance of the development achieves a distinctive chamber music quality, the polyphonic interplay seemingly having been influenced by Mendelssohn and Brahms. The Bournemouth brass make their noble presence felt at the coda, brilliantly punctuated by winds and tympani.
A singularly quick segue to the C Minor Adagio leads to the duet for winds, touched by a hint of somber drama, perhaps beholden to the Beethoven Pastoral Symphony. Serebrier keeps the dolor muted, his woodwinds moving in the manner of a rural cassation or serenade. The music does project a dramatically epic or tragic character temporarily, but it settles back into its lambent lyricism as though a passing storm had not displaced its innate mirth. The eerily haunted Allegretto grazioso in G Minor approaches the Brahms tradition of an orchestral intermezzo, here in the form of a gliding and bubbling waltz that shifts to 2/4 in the trio section. Serebrier imbues the music with lilted verve – even a touch of old-world portamento – but not the mysticism Talich captures. A trumpet voluntary and tympani tattoo announce an invitation to the dance for the Allegro ma non troppo, a colorful theme and variations whose occasional polyphony seems strongly related to his own Symphonic Variations, Op. 78. Serebrier urges the martial elements with elegant gusto, the flute and trumpets in fertile panoply. We have an altogether happy realization of one of Dvorak’s most seamless, richly hued scores. The warm sonic image owes sound engineer Mike Hatch a debt of gratitude.