- Antonin Dvorák - From Bohemia to New York [Recommended Recordings]
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Antonin Dvorák
Recommended Recordings

"I am now busy with a new Symphony and wherever I go I have no thought for anything but
my work, which must be such as to move the world — well, God grant that it may be so!

Dvorák: Cello Concerto; Tchaikowsky
(Mstislav Rostropovich; Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra)
Mstislav Rostropovich is the world's greatest cellist, and he has actually made at least five recordings of this greatest of all cello concertos. I have a certain preference for his later version, with Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony Orchestra on Erato. This version has long been a prime recommendation, and in this new remastering at mid-price, it's an even better deal now. Herbert von Karajan accompanies with his usual expertise, and the Tchaikovsky performance is quite simply the finest around. This concerto is one of those pieces of which you'll want to have five or six copies. Just make sure this is one of them. (review by David Hurwitz)

Piano Quintet, Piano Quartet
(Eugene Drucker, Lawrence Dutton, et al; Emerson String Quartet)
The venerable pianist of the Beaux Arts Trio joins the Emerson Quartet for two memorable performances. To the uncommon clarity and rhythmic drive of the string players, Menahem Pressler adds some of his own expansive personality. The mix works beautifully. You can hear every note in the scores, and everything is played with great expression and enough rhythmic tension to keep the music flowing. If you don't know these gorgeous works, this is a great way to make their introduction; if you do know them, this superbly recorded disc will bring you gratifying new perspectives. (review by Leslie Gerber)

Slavonic Dances Opp 46 & 72
(Cleveland Orchestra; George Szell, conductor)
George Szell's dedication to Dvorák is well-documented on CD, most recently with the reissue of his outstanding recordings of Symphonies 7 through 9. But for many Dvorák lovers, his name will be forever associated with this sparkling set of Slavonic Dances, one of the outstanding recordings of the LP era. Along with Kubelik's DG recording, this is the only complete set of Dvorák's miniature masterpieces that deserves to be set alongside classic Czech versions by conductors such as Talich and Sejna. Not only is the playing of the Cleveland Orchestra exceptional, but Szell positively luxuriates in Dvorák's generous fund of melody. At budget price, buy one for yourself and one for a friend. (review by David Hurwitz)

Stabat Mater
(Ingeborg Danz, Thomas Quasthoff, et al; Oregon Bach Festival Chorus, Oregon Bach Festival Orchestra; Helmuth Rilling, conductor)
Since the Middle Ages, this text has inspired composers in two fundamental ways: they have set it to music in fulfillment of a vow to the Virgin Mary, whom they believe has answered some prayer or petition; or they have purged themselves of some personal sense of grief in setting this moving text, which describes her sorrow as she weeps at the foot of the cross. Between 1875 and 1876, Dvorák lost three of his children to illness or accident, and it's no wonder that he chose to express his sorrow in such moving and very personal music. Helmuth Rilling's performance emphasizes the confessional nature of this essentially intimate piece, while at the same time keeping the music flowing steadily. This is not an everyday sort of experience, but on its own terms it's a deeply emotional one. (review by David Hurwitz)

Symphony no 9
(London Symphony Orchestra; István Kertész, conductor)
This entry in the new Penguin Music Classics collection presents one of the best readings of Dvorák's Ninth, From the New World. In her liner essay, playwright Wendy Wasserstein--author of the acclaimed Heidi Chronicles--describes playing the Ninth at blaring volumes on her discman as she traversed downtown Prague. And this is exactly how the music should be heard: loud. Dvorák's Ninth is, of course, so frequently played that it can become cumbersome, but Istvan Kertész and the London Symphony Orchestra play the score wonderfully, tender in the Largo and pouncing in the Molto vivace. This performance gives off pristine string and brass architectural detail even as the Ninth swoons in romantic washes and blasts in robust high energy. And there are few crescendos as brilliant as the Allegro section, with the brass crying out as if from the precipice between Dvorák's centuries-old Prague and the young, multiracial United States. Much has been made of the presence of Native American and African-American strains in this piece, and these elements make it one of the 19th century's acknowledged gems. The Ninth was a huge splash for Dvorák when he unloosed it in 1893 at Carnegie. Wasserstein relates how it invigorated her as a high school student in 1966, and it still electrifies listeners in 1998. (review by Andrew Bartlett)


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