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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Slavonic Dances, Op.46, B.83 [39:14]
Slavonic Dances, Op.72, B.147 [36:11]
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Jiři Bělohlávek
rec. Dvořák Hall, Rudolfinum, Prague, December 2014 (op. 46) & October 2015 (op. 72)
DECCA 478 9458 [75:33]

This disc of the Slavonic Dances is perfectly serviceable, and in many respects very good indeed, as you would expect when you consider who the performers are. This is their music, and they ought to own it.

The faster dances are really successful. Op. 46 No. 1 gets the set off to a jingling, energetic start, and the first dance in the second set works every bit as well, as does the Furiant that ends the first set. Op. 72 No. 7 has the feel of a New Year's Day polka to it, and there is something very characterful in the lopsided way that Op. 72 No. 3 lollops along.

I also enjoyed the slower dances. Op. 46 No. 4 has a beautiful lilt to it, while Op. 72 No. 2 has a silken, almost feline quality. Op. 72 No. 4 also feels a bit like Dvořák's Pastoral Symphony, evoking the nature of his beloved homeland in a similar manner to the way Smetana does in From Bohemia's Woods and Fields. There is a winning playfulness to Op. 46 No. 5, and Op. 72 No. 6 has a dainty, almost neoclassical feel.

The playing is universally good, with rumbustious, Bohemian strings, bold brass and shiny percussion that bring their line to life. Bělohlávek, too, is totally at one with the music, and conducts with a persuasive lilt throughout, whether swinging daintily or provoking fireworks. There is a sense of playfulness to many of the central sections, especially where there is a bit less at stake and so they can settle into them a bit more. The trio of Op. 72 No. 3, in particular, develops a real feel of Donner und Blitzen.

However, if you sense a reservation in my words then you are correct, and it is a serious one, coming in the form of the competition. Normally, I would think it unfair to do down a recording based on its rivals, but in this case the Czech Philharmonic is competing against itself. Sir Charles Mackerras conducted them in a complete set of the Slavonic Dances in 1999 for Supraphon, and that disc is in every respect superior to Bělohlávek's. There the faster dances really crackle, and the slower dances have a lilt about them that is amongst the most utterly persuasive Dvořák I think you will ever hear. Just compare the opening tracks to see what I mean: Bělohlávek's is utterly accurate and full of vigour, but Mackerras's explodes out of the speakers in a way that makes you want to start dancing. Case closed.

Simon Thompson

Track Listing
Slavonic Dances, Op.46, B.83
No. 1 in C (Presto) [4:26]
No. 2 in E Minor (Allegretto scherzando) [4:55]
No. 3 in A-Flat (Poco allegro) [4:40]
No. 4 in F (Tempo di minuetto) [7:16]
No. 5 in A (Allegro vivace) [3:38]
No. 6 in D (Allegretto scherzando) [6:04]
No. 7 in C Minor (Allegro assai) [3:38]
No. 8 in G Minor (Presto) [4:42]

8 Slavonic Dances, Op.72, B.147
No. 1 in B (Molto vivace) [4:14]
No. 2 in E minor (Allegretto grazioso) [5:41]
No. 3 in F (Allegro) [3:40]
No. 4 in D flat (Allegretto grazioso) [5:33]
No. 5 in B flat minor (Poco adagio) [2:47]
No. 6 in B flat (Moderato, quasi minuetto) [3:45]
No. 7 in C (Allegro vivace) [3:28]
No. 8 in A flat (Lento grazioso, ma non troppo, quasi tempo di valse) [7:07]


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