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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Op. 70 (1884-5) [38:39]* Othello, Overture, Op. 93 (1891-2) [14:09] Holoubek (The Wild Dove), Op. 110 (1896) [18:50]
Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra/Claus Peter Flor
rec. Dewan Philharmonic PETRONAS, Kuala Lumpur, September 2010, *July 2011 BIS BIS-SACD-1896 [72:42]
Claus Peter Flor plays the first movement of the D minor symphony as if his primary intention were to keep the listener off-balance. The introductory phrases crawl. The rising string figures accelerate to the standard tempo; then the pace slackens unexpectedly at 1:31, at the little transition to the horn solo. An agogic hiccough launches the tutti statement at 2:02 - as it will in the recapitulation. Even the caressing second theme-group incorporates an artful, oh-so-sensitive ritard at 3:26.
So it goes throughout the movement. All of the conductor's choices are musically motivated. Each makes an expressive point; none of them, on its own, is excessive. However, everything, taken together, becomes a bit much, though Flor, at least, avoids the sort of herky-jerky effect invited by other Romantic symphonies, like the Mahler First. Think of this as an outline for a better-integrated interpretation down the line.
Ironically, the remaining movements more or less follow standard paradigms. Flor's rhythmic address in the Poco adagio is straightforward, but the principal clarinet at the start is fervent, and the performance proceeds with concentrated power. The third movement's Trio section sounds oddly thick and static, but then the hushed pianissimo return of the Scherzo is magical. Despite some rhetorical touches, Flor steers clear of bombast in the Finale, which rounds things off effectively.
The Wild Dove, its innocuous title belying its grisly program, is characterful. In the forthright opening and closing marches, Flor conveys the needed gravity with dynamics and demeanour. The flutes' lilting waltz fragment at 6:09 leaves you wanting more - and we do get a longer waltz, gracious and flowing, at 9:13. At 7:15, bright-eyed brass fanfares usher in an episode that's lyrical and triumphal by turns. The strings' quiet lyrical episode at 11:23 is suffused with nostalgia.
The final acceleration of the Othello overture threatens to career out of control - the piece ends just in time - but, before that, the performance is animated by a nice buoyancy, taking in much delicate, expressive woodwind playing.
The polished-sounding Malaysian Philharmonic keeps its cool surprisingly well under the circumstances, maintaining good ensemble throughout. The string sonorities have a nice sheen. The woodwinds play with transparent tone and phrase sensitively; the brass are firm and solid.
Bis's engineering, even in plain frontal stereo, is vivid.
Stephen Francis Vasta
Stephen Francis Vasta is a New York-based conductor, coach, and journalist.