DVORAK: Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 “From the New World”; NOVAK: Philharmonic Dances [only recording] ; DELIUS: Prelude to Irmelin; La Calinda from Koanga – Brno Philharmonic Orchestra/Jiri Waldhans – Orchestral Concert

by | Oct 26, 2009 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

DVORAK: Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 “From the New World”; NOVAK: Philharmonic Dances [only recording] ; DELIUS: Prelude to Irmelin; La Calinda from Koanga – Brno Philharmonic Orchestra/Jiri Waldhans

CNSTR CD1/2008, 68:39 [www.orchestralconcertcds.com] ****:

I had the distinct pleasure of hearing Jiri Waldhans lead the Czech Philharmonic years ago, on tour in Atlanta. On this disc devoted to the Brno Philharmonic whose helm Waldhans assumed in 1962, we hear Waldhans in concert at Royal Festival Hall 22 October 1966.  The New World Symphony receives a literal, lean and modulated account, lyrically warm to the utmost, sans repeat in the first movement Adagio–Allegro molto. The level of trumpet work, along with the resounding tympani, demands our fond attention.

The elegiac Largo proceeds graciously, intimately, a dark song in folk idioms. The oboe and flute attempt to bring levity to the quiet dirge, but the vast expanses consume the mirth, promising adventure rather than consolation. The string concertino after the English horn solo slows the procession to a nuanced halt, a transition much akin to the quietude in the Fricsay renditions. The Scherzo may be the most “American” movement, exploiting Native American rhythms and occasional pentatonic scales, but no less indebted to Beethoven’s Ninth. Waldhans projects a fertile mist of the proceedings, its war dance and gentle bucolic trio that seems to invoke Hiawatha‘s call. Waldhans pushes the last movement hard, but without the sacrifice of color elements in the woodwinds, cymbals, and low strings. Sterling intensity reigns, the themes merging Negro spirituals, Native American rhythms, and Bohemian harmonies and colors – a true multiculturalism. The soft patina that infiltrates even the trills bespeaks a tender sympathy to Dvorak’s interior craftsmanship, rarely heard in such effervescent detail in concert.

Jan Novak (1923-1994) composed his three Philharmonic Dances in 1957 on a Brno Philharmonic commission. A pupil of Martinu, Novak inherits a startling, audacious capacity for color, especially as each dance reflects varying rhythms. The opening Allegro might be a martial tango, weirdly hued by its secondary theme in high clucking woodwinds and modal harmonies.  Moderato begins with dreamy sonorities, perhaps a touch of Rimsky-Korsakov crossed with Roussel. A rustic figure repeats low, while the upper strings soar in fervent doxology. A martial element enters, and the music echoes aspects of Shostakovich. The exotic color returns, a la Roussel, then fades out. The Vivace dance initiates a snare drum and swirling figures accompanied by the harp.  A kind of Brazilian dance ensues, which becomes brassy and reminiscent of Wallingford Reigger’s Dance Rhythms. The mood softens considerably, liquefies, then gradually coagulates into its former martial and Brazilian pose to carry the audience away.

Waldhans enters Thomas Beecham territory with his renditions of Delius. The exotically haunted strains of the 1890 Irmelin Prelude proceed slowly, the Brno savoring every nuance of its idyllic character. The concertante strings in the final pages complement that horn and low strings as the music evaporates into a refined space.  La Calinda from the opera Koanga (1935) evokes a plantation wedding, old-style, among Southern slaves. The flute solo takes command over the pulsating strings and battery instruments, British music by way of a Saint-Saens bacchanale. Engineer and producer Geoffrey Terry has captured Jiri Waldhans at his most colorfully magnanimous, a real cornucopia of sound.

— Gary Lemco

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