Bertrand de Billy

Dvorák: Symphony No. 9 "From the New World"; Suk: Pohádka Op. 16 "Fairy Tale"

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While there have been half a dozen recordings of Josef Suk's Fairy Tale, and at least 100 recordings of Antonin Dvorák's "From the New World" Symphony, this disc coupling both works, performed by Bertrand de Billy and the Vienna Radio Symphony, is really quite special. De Billy and the Viennese musicians do it the old-fashioned way, by taking the music seriously, performing it faithfully, and expressing it passionately. Best known for his work at the Vienna State Opera, de Billy is also a more than competent symphonic conductor, with balances, tempos, and details just where they should be. But what especially distinguishes him is his commitment to the music. De Billy shows affection for Suk's relatively unfamiliar hymn to romantic love by letting its big themes sing and its big climaxes ring, and admiration for Dvorák's exceedingly popular homage to America, by allowing its big themes soar and its big climaxes resound from sea to shinning sea, figuratively speaking. The Vienna Radio Symphony proves here that it is more than just the third orchestra of Vienna. With suave strings, characterful winds, blended brass, and polished ensemble playing, it is clearly a first-class orchestra doing its best by its conductor and the music on the stands. If the instrumentalists lack the last degree of excellence that distinguishes the performances of the Wiener Philharmoniker, the heart and soul put into the playing matches and may even surpass more famous competitors. Captured in crisp but lush digital sound, this disc may not take the place of earlier recordings of these works by Vaclav Talich and the Czech Philharmonic, but it has earned the right to stand on the same shelf with them.

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