Only two short years separate the composition of Dvorák's Eighth and Ninth symphonies, yet those two years saw drastic changes in Dvorák's life circumstances. Going from an underpaid and sometimes criticized court composer in Prague to a highly paid, much sought-after, almost deified celebrity in the United States, Dvorák took his mission to capture American art music quite seriously in composing the Ninth Symphony. Although the degree of its "American-ness" is debatable, it is clear that Dvorák made great efforts to compose a symphony that embodied his new home. The result was one of the most frequently performed and easily recognized symphonies in the repertoire.
Performing his final two symphonies is the Sapporo Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Tadaaki Otaka. What this orchestra brings to this recording is a great deal of rhythmic and technical precision, finely tuned balance, and generally very solid intonation. The same attention to rhythmic detail that is its strength also plays out to be a weakness; much of the playing throughout both symphonies goes beyond rhythmically precise into the realm of rigidity and stiffness. The Allegro of the Ninth Symphony's first movement, for example, is exceedingly metronomic, making it seem more like an orchestral exercise than an attempt at capturing a feeling of folk music. Adding to this is Otaka's generally slower pace in fast movements, which only accentuates the rigidity of his orchestra's playing. Those in the market for a technically polished recording of these symphonies have definitely come to the right place, but there are alternate recordings out there with just as much precision plus a great deal more musicality.