Dvorak wrote the Symphony No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 4 in 1865, but he was so poor at the time he couldn’t even afford to have it bound. It finally premiered in 1888, getting all of one performance during the composer’s lifetime; not exactly an auspicious start for the young Dvorak or his second symphonic work. Fortunately, that doesn’t stop Maestro Serebrier from giving it his all.
The Second Symphony is a fairly light work, lyrical, bucolic, and agreeable. That’s the way Serebrier approaches it, with a strong, lively spirit yet with good humor and a pastoral outlook as well. The conductor maintains moderately quick tempos throughout, giving the piece a peppy yet easygoing amiability. The Second is essentially a cheerful, often gentle work, and Serebrier keeps it that way.
The symphony begins with a lengthy introduction, followed by a moderately more aggressive tune, an exposition, recapitulation, and coda, all in pretty much an Allegro con moto tempo as Dvorak indicates. Throughout this fifteen-minute movement, Serebrier and the Bournemouth players sound elegant and refined, even though he moves things along at a moderately rapid gait. The music may not be entirely memorable, but the conductor handles it in a fluid, fluent manner that makes it quite easy to take.
Under Serebrier the second-movement Adagio is peaceful and serene, a quiet tranquility pervading the scene, tinged with a touch of romantic melancholy. Next, we get what by Dvorak’s standards is an extra-long Scherzo, in which Serebrier finds suitable joy handling the varied and abundant themes.
Then comes a finale of great exuberance and even greater extravagance, the various melodies practically falling over one another. Here, Serebrier seems a bit more hesitant than in the previous sections of the symphonies. It's trifling, but he does appear to slow the pace a tad, at least in places, rather starting and stopping more than necessary. In any case, no harm done, and the conductor takes the music out on a grand, broad, Tchaikovsky-like sweep. Neither the symphony nor Serebrier's reading of it will probably win any awards, but it is doubtless satisfying and certainly more than competent.
Coupled with the symphony we find three of Dvorak's Slavonic Dances from 1878 and 1886: Nos. 3 and 6 from Op. 46 and No. 7 from Op. 72. They are brief, about three to five minutes apiece, and they demonstrate the composer's later, more concise, more familiar style, with which he won his first international success. If Serebrier loses a little something in the way of rustic charm, he does give the music a lovely, effortless appeal, and they do, in fact, surpass the Symphony No. 2 in almost every way despite their brevity. Indeed, it may be their very conciseness that makes the Dances so delightful, filled as they are with lilting, high-spirited good will.
It's very nicely recorded, too, spacious and open, and very, very smooth. It's a tad close for my liking, but it's not distracting; it just decreases somewhat the sense of depth and dimensionality in the music. Dynamics, impact, and frequency extensions in the bass and treble are adequate, though not outstanding, and midrange definition is fine. The recording may not rank in the upper echelons of audiophile perfection, but like the performances it is easy on the ear and quite pleasant.
John J. Puccio