Vaclav Talich

Dvorák: Symphonies Nos. 8 & 9 "From the New World"

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These are classic recordings of the Czech postwar period, made in 1951 (the Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op. 88) and 1954 (the Symphony No. 9 in E minor, "From the New World," Op. 95), and beautifully remastered by the Czech Republic's Supraphon label with the sort of care that is expended when people feel like they're dealing with part of the national patrimony. Both probing and lively, they're as good as any of the hundreds of recordings of these two perennials ever made. The booklet paints a nice little picture of the hell Talich put his musicians through as he worked out these fresh interpretations, and something of his ability to think on his feet comes through in the finished performances. With a palette that ranges from Nutcracker-like delicacy to folk rhythms that sound as rough as they should, Talich brings constant surprises to works that most classical listeners know, and Czechs of the 1950s knew by heart. Consider the reading of the last movement of this Symphony No. 8, which may well be definitive for those who don't have to have absolute sonic perfection. Many conductors lay too much weight on the foot-tapping main theme and tend to lose momentum as the movement proceeds. Talich grasps the architecture of this movement, whose crowd-pleasing quality masks a subtle kind of development, as few other conductors have: it opens circumspectly, shocks the listener with little jolts along the way, and reaches full steam only toward the end. The "New World" Symphony is full of wonderful details, with a profoundly serene slow movement that gets at Dvorák's mystical reverence for nature. The finale likewise does not shoot its bolt with the initial statement of the big brass theme but lets texture do the work in generating a single arc of momentum that carries the listener through to the end. With engineering that has raised the sound quality of these classics to acceptable, they make an excellent choice for any basic or detailed collection of the great Romantic symphonies.

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