on 25 August 2015
Much like the incessant war between Autobots and Decepticons, a similar conflict rages in matters Dvorak: Kubelik v Kertesz. It's a debate that will rage over time. I possess both cycles. Being a sucker for the Klang of the Berlin Philharmonic (as it was then) I unhesitatingly fight for the former, even if I acknowledge the vernal appeal of the latter.
Are the earlier symphonies worth such a fight? The First, Third and Fourth Symphonies have appeal but I don't feel any compulsion to hear them frequently. In its revised form, the first three movements of the Second Symphony never fail to delight me. Listen to the commencement of the trio at 4'40" in Kubelik's recording from December 1972; for those familiar with the movie `Up', it is the first page of `My Adventure Book - Stuff I'm gonna do."
I prefer Kubelik's more meditative approach in these earlier symphonies - which can be viewed pejoratively as being `more sedate' by Kertesz-ites. Not that I am the man to judge such matters, but when this music is being played by the Berlin Philharmonic and the London Symphony Orchestra, one should be hard-pressed to detect an idiomatic Czech tang in the output of either orchestra. Accordingly, I default to the superhuman Klang of the Berliners. I don't detect any lack of commitment from the orchestra. Given who they were at the time, they eat the music alive. Consider the tinctures at the slow movements of 6 (2'08"ff) and 7 (2'49"ff) - not even Claude Lorrain could conjure up such prismatic wonders. And what of the sheer animal excitement in the first movement of the Fifth (7'10"ff)?
On surer ground, so to speak, the Berliners hammer out performances of 7, 8 and 9 that rank with any in the catalogue. Indeed, a finer account of the D Minor does not come to mind.
Other than the once-off release of the last two symphonies in 1995 on the Originals, this set has not been remastered. While the cycle was recorded in the famous acoustic of the Jesus Christus Church, a re-fresh is not going to hurt, not that it's going to happen any time soon.
You'll win with either cycle. But why not luxuriate in the Klang, here yesterday and gone today?
on 9 January 2012
I've wanted to investigate Dvorak's symphonies for years, so for Christmas invested in two classic sets - the Kubelik and the Kertesz. I haven't listened to the latter yet but would echo the praise of the previous reviewer for Kubelik's set.
These are marvellous works given spirited recordings by an orchestra directed by a conductor whose affinity with the composer is obvious. The analogue sound stands up well (preferable to some digital recordings I've heard)and the set comes at a very reasonable price. Don't be put off by the thought of nine symphonies over six discs - just think of hours of great music that you can lose yourself in. An ideal starting point for anyone wanting to investigate the gorgeous music of Dvorak. There are some shorter orchestral works included - the "Scherzo capriccioso", "Carnival Overture" and the "Wood Dove" tone poem - it's all good and comes highly recommended.
The LSO's cycle with Kertesz got more notices but these days you can find critics revisiting and starting to pare down the earlier encomia. If the London sessions are going down, these Berlin ones deserve to go up, especially when the DG Originals pairing of Nos 8&9 has long been recognised as a world beater.
Kubelik brings a unique intensity and conviction to middle period and late Dvorak, and it's a mark of how highly he was regarded back in the analogue era that DG put him together with the Berlin Phil, Karajan's super orchestra, rather than with Kubelik's own BRSO. The playing is generally electrifying, not just in the very popular final symphonies: jump to the slow movements of the Third and Fourth symphonies, Wagner's spirit all apparent, and savour the breadth of Kubelik's conception and the commitment of the orchestra's playing.
Slightly vexing that both Nos 4 & 5 are split over two disc, but at least the box design is space efficient and the booklet informative. Quality analogue stereo, state of the art then, more than acceptable now.