Right from the start, you know this is going to be a great set of Dvorák's 16 Slavonic Dances. From the first tutti chord, the spirit, the energy, the power, the grace, the sheer delight of the music is fully present -- and it never lets up straight through to the end of the last dance. Every Furiant, every Dumka, every Polka, and especially every Sousedská is brilliantly colorful, melodically memorable and irresistibly danceable. And the truly amazing thing is that this is a nearly forgotten performance released on a budget American label. The Bamberg Symphony isn't thought of as one of the great European orchestras, but at the time these recordings were made it was staffed mostly by former players from the Deutsches Landestheater in Prague, whose last chief conductors (before the Nazi invasion) had been -- in chronological order -- Zemlinsky, William Steinberg, Georg Szell and Karl Rankl. So, they were not a ragtag band. But the true reason for the excellence of this disc is the conducting. Antal Dorati was surely one of the finest of the wave of Hungarians -- Reiner, Szell, Ormandy, and Solti -- that ascended the podiums of America's great orchestras after the war, and if Dorati's reputation never matches theirs, it was surely not for lack of technique, talent, or taste. In these 1974 recordings, Dorati pushes the Bamberg players so far beyond themselves they seem possessed by the souls of Bohemians. Although the strings sometimes have trouble staying together, the winds go occasionally out of tune, the brass are intermittently brutal, and the percussion is often crass, the Bambergers play with such complete dedication, such unwavering intensity, and such overwhelming passion that their performances are actually more convincing than many performances by purely Czeck orchestras. And although Vox's stereo sound is often hard and always shallow, Dorati's conducting and the Bamberg's playing easily overcomes these limitations. Although not the only recording of the Slavonic Dances to hear -- if you're only going to hear one, make it the Szell/Cleveland; if you're only going to hear two, add the Kubelík/Bavarian -- but anyone who loves the music will surely love these performances.
AllMusic Review by James Leonard
|Slavonic Dances (8) for orchestra, B. 83 (Op. 46)|
|Slavonic Dances (8) for orchestra, B. 147 (Op. 72)|