Various Artists

Ultimate Dvorák: The Essential Masterpieces [Box Set]

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Ultimate Dvorak: The Essential Masterpieces. The title alone lends itself to all kinds of problems. Who decides which of Dvorák's compositions are indeed his "essential" ones? Are the performances of these masterpieces also the ultimate? This five-disc collection by Decca is certainly an adequate introduction to some of Dvorák's most popular works: the final three symphonies, the cello concerto, and the Serenade for Strings. What's more noticeable is what's missing; despite Dvorák's rather significant contribution to chamber music, this genre is passed up in favor of lesser-known works like the Op. 44 Wind Serenade or both the Op. 46 and Op. 72 Slavonic Dances. The actual performances throughout the five CDs are, again, adequate. The London Symphony Orchestra, heard performing the Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth symphonies, suffers from some unusual and unexpected balance problems. Julian Lloyd Webber's interpretation of the Cello Concerto is neither remarkably in tune, nor musically enthralling. The highlight of the collection is the beautifully performed Serenade for Strings with the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Apart from its bargain price, however, most listeners may do better shopping for Dvorák's "essential masterpieces" using the a la carte method: choose superior performances of fewer works rather than passable performances of more compositions.

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