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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 10 (1872-3?) [33:45]
Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Op. 70 (1885) [37:03]
Wiener Philharmoniker/Myung-Whun Chung
rec. February 1995, Großer Saal, Musikverein, Vienna
Presto CD
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 449 207-2 [70:58]

Presto Classical continues to re-issue gems under licence from the DG catalogue. Having just reviewed Karajan’s stellar recording of the Eighth with the same orchestra as here, I was eager to hear this double bill from Chung, who recorded four Dvořák symphonies and the serenades for Deutsche Grammophon with the VPO. In the 90’s. The competition, primarily from the likes of Kertész, Kubelik and Suitner, is strong, but the VPO, as Karajan demonstrated, were a crack outfit in Dvořák and had the advantage of state-of-the-art digital sound.

The sound of the VPO and Chung’s interpretation in the little, three-movement Third Symphony are of a piece: warm, genial and relaxed, perhaps not as energised or incisive as some but this early symphony – Dvořák’s gateway to fame, recognition and financial security – does not require the same attack as the later ones. It is brimful of lilting, Romantic melody – always Dvořák’s trademark – stiffened by some prominent writing for timpani and seems to owe not a little to both Schumann and Wagner for its lyricism and textures respectively. There are frequent echoes of harmonies and orchestration heard in middle-period Wagner, and the exuberant finale, played here con gusto, in particular contains elements of Der fliegende Holländer.

The progress from the comfortable Third to the much more complex and emotionally conflicted “London Symphony” is marked. By this time, Dvořák was clearly influenced by the symphonies of his friend and champion Brahms, and attempts to reconcile his sunny, countryside nature with his nationalistic zeal. Chung is perhaps more successful in conveying the elements of the former than suggesting fervency but there is plenty of heft in the orchestral sound and once again, the timpani underpin the more impassioned passages, making a splendid row. The famous VPO woodwind and flutes contribute a charm which is more Viennese than Czech - but what a lovely sound – and the climax of the movement with its blaring horns followed by the muttering cello theme recapitulating the first, main subject, is in turn undeniably thrilling and mysterious. The oddly melancholy Poco adagio is elegantly and feelingly delivered, and culminating in a serene coda reminiscent of the ending of Smetana’s Vltava. The Scherzo dances engagingly – yet again, more sterling timpani work providing backbone – gradually winding up into something more martial and threatening, a transition neatly graduated by Chung. The finale picks up on that yearning, grimly determined and courageous mood and is here given a Beethovenian weight and vigour, the horns in particular distinguishing themselves. The excitement and momentum are sustained throughout and the last two minutes are riveting.
These may not be the last word in recordings of these exceptionally colourful and compact symphonies but they are thoroughly satisfying, not least for the beauty of the VPO in full flight, caught in superb sound.

Ralph Moore

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