This is the London Phil.'s posthumous tribute to a beloved conductor who was associated with the orchestra for 45 years. (Mackerras is the answer to a trivia question: Who was the last conductor to span the history of recordings from 78-rpm shellacs to CDs?) These live performances both date from 1992, when the conductor turned 67. He is in his best form in the Symphonic Variations, not one of Dvorak's strongest works - one English reviewer accuses them of being "bitty." Mackerras has a strong sense of sweep, and he holds the variation form together quite well, besides giving warm, affectionate readings of each one. The orchestra responds with affection and alertness. the overall energy is captivating from start to finish. I am not a great fan of Mackerras's, and I expected to be kind, but this is a reading that any listener could own as their one and only.
On the other hand, great conductors have left us memorable Dvorak Eighths; a standard recommendation is Szell, but my favorites are Beecham, Tennstedt, and Kertesz. Without rising to their level, Mackerras delivers a reading that is knowing, assured, and forward-moving. He doesn't dawdle or try to exaggerated expressiveness (an accusation I sometimes want to aim at the beloved Giulini in his two accounts). The archival recording on the LPO's house label comes off splendidly, with especially sweet, rounded string sound. Mackerras's direct, natural phrasing remains appealing throughout. He is particularly gracious in the Scherzo, which he tinges with melancholy. A good deal of this symphony seems paced at the same tempo, which can be alleviated with a breakneck finale, but Mackerras is genial and moderate here, too, the only drawback to this reading. In all, a tribute worth buying for more than sentimental reasons.