We have been hearing Marin Alsop go through the Dvořák symphonies with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the eighth and the sixth this past season, the Symphonic Variations and the ninth the season before that. The latter pairing was released on CD at the end of last season, and it has been in my CD player for a couple stints since then. The BSO plays with ear-splitting might and incisive unity of attack, but once again Alsop puts an overly heavy mark on the score, tending to shave time off other readings in the fast movements and dragging out the slow ones. The charming Symphonic Variations fares much better from this approach, a work where the constantly shifting tempi and textures favor an idiosyncratic handling section by section. By report -- for example, Alsop's podcast interview -- she has studied the scores of these 19th-century composers very closely, but it is difficult in a work like the ninth symphony, available in so many recorded versions, to find something new to say. At this point, the BSO is playing at a level to make its concerts exciting and worthwhile listening, but are their live performances at a level capable of making a recorded legacy?
Dvořák, Symphony No. 9, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, M. Alsop
(released on May 27, 2008)
Symphony No. 9 | Symphonic Variations
Emmanuel Krivine has made something of a name for himself, not least for his work with La Chambre Philharmonique, formed since 2004 on a more or less ad hoc basis by members from various European orchestras. Their recording of Mendelssohn symphonies was good, if not quite rave-worthy, and he has turned in a strong appearance on the podium of our own local band. The big symphonic work that anchored that 2007 concert with the NSO, Dvořák's ninth symphony, is the focus of Krivine's latest release with LCP. Krivine's take on the so-called "New World" symphony, which is mostly just as influenced by Czech folk music as Dvořák's other works (in spite of the composer's reference to Longfellow's Song of Hiawatha in the slow movement and his study of African-American folk song while in the United States), is equally good if not great. The possibility of hearing this all-too-famous work in something approximating its original light is intriguing. The occasional imprecision of the winds and brass in crucial spots, but at the same time their amber mellowness, is due to the LCP players' use of mostly 19th-century instruments. Add in as a bonus a Schumann rarity, the op. 86 Konzertstück for four horns -- not unrecorded but worth hearing with the four Viennese horns from the 19th century presented here.
Dvořák, Symphony No. 9, La Chambre Philharmonique, E. Krivine
(released on September 30, 2008)
Naïve V 5132
Emmanuel Krivine returns to conduct the National Symphony Orchestra this evening, leading performances of
Chopin's first Ravel's G major piano concerto (with Yundi Li), Pascal Dusapin's Apex, and Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique (January 22 to 24).