Edo de Waart / Royal Flemish Philharmonic / Royal Flemish Philharmonic Wood Quintet

Antonín Dvorák: Symphony No. 8

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Both of the performances of well-worn Dvorák masterpieces here are fresh and well thought out. Veteran conductor Edo de Waart leads Belgium's Royal Flemish Philharmonic in the Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op. 88, which from Brahms on down has been considered a tuneful crowd-pleaser but somehow nothing more. De Waart and "de Filharmonie" set out to make something more of it, carving out the tunes in the opening movement into deeper reliefs rather than just letting slip pleasantly by. For an example of what he's up to, check out the beginning of the symphony's finale, which quite counter to type gives the opening material the full weight of operatic drama. Then the big triadic tune, when it does come, releases all the tension that has built up over the course of the work, and when the intentionally blaring brass writing cuts loose the effect is immensely satisfying. The arrangement of the String Quartet No. 12 in F major, Op. 96 ("American"), might seem perverse; another symphony would have been a logical choice, and no reason is given for presenting the work in an arrangement for wind quintet. Yet mixed-genre symphonic concerts would not have fazed an audience of the late 19th century; nor would have an arrangement for forces at hand. Arranging the work for winds homogenizes it and smooths it out in an intriguing way. Listeners won't want to hear the quartet played this way all the time, but its wide-open pentatonic melodies are pleasing in this version. An offbeat choice with a very strong performance of the Symphony No. 8.

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