Dvorak: Symphonies Nos. 1-9 / Neumann, Czech Philharmonic

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With interpretation, execution, and sound taken in tandem, there is no finer Dvorák cycle than this one.

Václav Neumann's Dvorák cycle certainly stands with the classic sets by Kubelik, Kertesz, and Rowicki, and it's better recorded (by far) than any of them. Still Neumann has been dogged principally by the fact that he was not Karel Ancerl, despite being a fine conductor in his own right. His principal weakness seems to have been a sort of stiffness that could on occasion paralyze his ability to make the music flow (sort of like Horenstein's chronic tempo problems, though on a much smaller scale). Here however it's all smooth sailing. Even where Neumann takes special care over rhythmic detail, such as the five-note accompaniment figures in the First Symphony's opening movement, or in the deliberate but hair-trigger precise finale of the Third Symphony, the result has the effect of giving the music an extra breadth and weight.

Perhaps the best performance in this set, however, is of the gorgeous Second Symphony. Dvorak was right to revise this early work and have it published later in his life, and it is fully characteristic of him. The third movement remains his largest and most melodically abundant scherzo, and who can fail to thrilled at the finale's second subject--a widely ranging melody accompanied by ear-catching, ponticello string tremolos? Neumann is also at his very best here, to say nothing of the incomparable Czech Philharmonic, which offers playing that pretty much eclipses the competition in charm, rhythmic snap, and sheer timbral beauty. Sonically speaking, Supraphon made some of the very best early digital recordings, and so they remain. A must-have if you love Dvorák. [3/1/2003]
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com


This central panel in Václav Neumann's excellent Dvorák symphony cycle starts out with the inestimable advantage of the Czech Philharmonic in top form, but it won't do to diminish the quality of artistic insight coming from the podium. Take the Fourth Symphony, for example: Listen to how Neumann has the winds in the scherzo emphasizing their dotted rhythms against the triple-time accompaniment, and the increased musical tension this generates. Smart man! The finale takes one of Dvorák's most interesting formal experiments (it's the earliest extant prototype for the Romantic finales of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto and Rachmaninov's Second and Third Piano Concertos and Second Symphony) and weds it to arguably the least interesting principal tune that he ever wrote. The movement has never sounded better than it does here. Neumann understands the need to soft-pedal the "one-two-three" motive and stress lyrical elements wherever possible, and the result makes a musical silk purse out of a real potential sow's ear.

Both the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies are of course masterpieces all the way through, and from the first sound of those inimitably Czech clarinets that open the Fifth, you know it's going to be smooth sailing. A beautifully flowing slow movement, breezy scherzo, and brilliant finale with a hugely exciting coda characterize an exceptional performance. The same virtues hold true in the Sixth, where Neumann doesn't put a foot wrong. Of course there will be other performances of this glowing work with something special to offer: Ancerl's for example, with this same orchestra, and no one touches Kubelik in the scherzo. But Neumann more than holds his own in this august company, and as regards interpretation, execution, and sound taken in tandem, there is no finer Dvorák cycle than this one. [3/8/2003]
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com


Václav Neumann concludes his remarkable Dvorák symphony cycle on a high note, turning in what is arguably the finest and most consistent set of the last three symphonies since George Szell. All of the competition in this area has problems: Kubelik's Seventh isn't fabulous, and neither is Kertesz's (who did a better "New World" in his earlier VPO rendition). Rowicki, also less good in the Seventh than in the later two works, like Kertesz has an LSO whose playing is no match for that of the Czech Philharmonic. Colin Davis and the Concertgebouw offer a stunning Seventh and a decent "New World", but an unremarkable Eighth. Järvi turns in fine accounts of Nos. 8 and 9, but makes heavy going of the Seventh, and he's cavernously recorded too. Neumann, by contrast, shines in the Seventh, perhaps Dvorák's greatest symphony. His attack on the first movement's climax remains unrivaled, and he milks the finale's tragic foreboding for all it's worth but never lets the music bog down (those marvelous Czech winds help a lot too).

The Eighth is noteworthy for its effortless sense of flow, and also for a finale that, in the Czech tradition of Talich, takes the scherzo variations in tempo yet still has sufficient rhythmic kick to provide an exciting conclusion. Neumann recorded the "New World" Symphony more times than I care to count, his last efforts revealing sadly diminished capacity. This is his best version, a "traditional" performance in the sense that it doesn't bring new revelations to this oft-played symphony, but it's also one whose feeling of "rightness" (note the beautifully relaxed yet seemingly self-propelled Largo and the trenchantly argued finale) married to superb playing places it among the handful of great accounts. Supraphon's first-rate sonics also distinguish this, the most consistently excellent of all complete Dvorák symphony cycles, from the rest of the pack. Supraphon's happy decision to offer the nine symphonies in sets of three also means that you don't have to commit to the whole production until you've had a chance to sample--but sample you certainly should. [3/22/2003]
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: SU3706-2

  • UPC: 099925370626

  • Label: Supraphon

  • Composer: Antonín Dvořák

  • Conductor: Václav Neumann

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Czech Philharmonic Orchestra