Magazine article Gramophone

Belohlavek's Dvorak: Rob Cowan Listens to a New Six-Disc Set Containing the Czech Conductor's Latest Take on the Complete Symphonies and Concertos

Magazine article Gramophone

Belohlavek's Dvorak: Rob Cowan Listens to a New Six-Disc Set Containing the Czech Conductor's Latest Take on the Complete Symphonies and Concertos

Article excerpt

Quite aside from a wealth of illuminating detail and an empathetic approach to Dvorak's symphonic oeuvre overall, the crowning virtue of this set is in the way it relates the composer's artistic growth. Jiri Belohlavek focuses the precise character of each piece, so that the aura of youthfulness he brings to the First Symphony (and to the third movement in particular) contrasts markedly with the breadth, mellowness and epic proportions of his New World--played, incidentally, without its first-movement exposition repeat. The Sixth's balmy exposition is also left single-tier, which isn't surprising given that there's so much of it, though beam up from around 3'44" into the very vital Kertesz recording (Decca) and you'll catch the beautiful bridge passage that we miss out on with Belohlavek. The Fifth, a Dvorak 'Pastoral' in all but name, wears a very sunny countenance and is at its most amiable in the first and second movements, whereas the quietly questioning transition from the slow movement to the Scherzo recalls the artful handling of Karel Sejna (Supraphon). The Second Symphony, which here plays for not far short of an hour, runs the gamut --even within its first minute--from darkness to light, and Belohlavek allows its rich fund of ideas to flow freely. You could call it a vade mecum of Dvorak's evolving symphonic style.

'Jin Belohlavek focuses the precise character of each piece'

In one or two instances among these early symphonies you can sense Dvorak stumbling across awkward dissonances that, had he been more experienced, he might have ironed out. One, involving quiet woodwinds and strings, arrives at 6'09" into the first movement of the Second (if played out of context you'd probably think it was from the 20th century), the other, like a momentary spot of inebriation, occurs from 7'21" to around 7'35" in the finale of the Third, where Belohlavek takes the best possible option--he just goes for it. I wasn't too sure about the way he makes a tiny pause at around 0'41" into the Third's first movement, before the repeated string figurations, which to my ears disrupts the flow: check, for comparison, Vaclav Smetacek (Supraphon) or, among complete cycles, Vladimir Valek (also Supraphon) and, especially illuminating, the wonderful Witold Rowicki with the LSO (Decca). Belohlavek and his Czech players make the strongest possible case for the Fourth Symphony's highly atmospheric opening pages, 'Wagner meets Smetana' you might say, though the lyrical second subject is Dvorak through and through. …

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