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A Survey of Dvořák Symphony Cycles

Discographies on ionarts: Bach Organ Cycles | Beethoven Piano Sonata Cycles I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX | Bruckner Symphony Cycles | Dvořák Symphony Cycles | Shostakovich Symphony Cycles | Sibelius Symphony Cycles

Like the Beethoven Piano Sonata Cycle Survey, the Bach Organ Cycle Survey, the Sibelius Symphony Cycle Survey, and the Bruckner Cycle Survey, this is a mere inventory of what has been recorded and whether it is still available. Favorites are denoted with the “ionarts’ choice” graphic.

The complete Dvořák Symphonies have gone through various changes in their numbering (best known is the fact that the Ninth Symphony used to be considered the "Fifth" (and Five was Three, Six was One…), since Dvořák had suppressed the first four. Those four are incidentally the real reason to get a complete set. (This is assuming you already have a Fifth, Sixth [something better than this one], and definitely assuming you have a Seventh and Eighth; if you don't have a Ninth, you stumbled upon the wrong website.) Dvořák might have thought them lesser efforts, and certainly the Second Symphokeny lacks conciseness and the veteran punch that the composer can deliver in the darkly grand, consciously ambitious Seventh, or the even-keeled, mature, charming Fifth with its Bohemian touch. Dvořák’s Third is “Wagner without Words” and terrific, too... you get the picture.

There’s plenty of choice out there, albeit less than with Sibelius or Bruckner. The big names—Kubelik and Kertész in this repertoire—are good, but not necessarily beyond criticism. Not every recording that is Czech is therefore idiomatic; nor every non-Czech recording at a disadvantage… and sometimes little underdogs (like Anguélov and his provincial Slovak Radio band, which has also recorded for Naxos with Stephen Gunzenhauser) can take a bite out of the big boys.

Because I’ve not heard even half of the recordings I am very conservative with the “ionarts’ choice” recommendation… a recommendation for which superb treatment of the early symphonies is a prerequisite.

Not included in this list are: an as-of-yet unfinished second cycle by Zdeněk Mácal with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra on Exton which, when it is completed and if it were readily available, would be the only cycle on SACDs. Ditto the ongoing, promising cycle that José Serebrier is recording on Warner with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.

Edit 21/04/16: Istvan Kertész’s cycle has been re-released on Decca Collector’s Edition. The good news is: It now comes with the non-symphonic works restored to their rightful place. The bad news is: In order to squeeze as much music on as few CDs as possible, Decca has now not only continued to split the Fifth Symphony but also split the Second. Ugh! Will they never learn?

Edit 24/11/15: José Serebrier’s cycle on Warner with the Bournemouth SO has been boxed and published and included below.

Edit 24/11/15: The new (German?/Eloquence) re-issue has finally undone the damage of splitting the Fourth Symphony among two discs. It is a good-looking slim slipcase with individual discs and includes the non-symphonic Kubelik Dvořák recordings with the BRSO. In that edition just about an "ionarts Choice" candidate! Also Ottmar Suitner’s Symphonies have been re-issued on Brilliant, in a box that also includes most of the orchestral non-overture work of Dvořák’s (in recordings from Kuchar and Doráti).

available at Amazon
István Kertész / LSO

1992, 6 CDs, $23
UK | DE | FR

'14 Collector’s Ed., 9 CDs, $35
US | UK | DE | FR

available at Amazon
Rafael Kubelik / BPh, BRSO
(Deutsche Grammophon)

1999 DG, 6 CDs, $35:
UK | DE | FR

'14 Eloquence, 9 CDs $30:
US | UK | DE | FR


Thomas at My Porch said...

I've heard bits and pieces of many of these but my favorite is the Jarvi SNO set. I love acoustic of the recording space. Makes everything sound so alive.

Matt said...

Jarvi is not known for his Dvorak, but I've enjoyed his cycle too. His second and eighth are especially fine--I never understood the second until I heard Jarvi.

I thought Ionarts readers might also be interested in the new cycle that Decca released this past week in the US--the Czech Phil conducted by Jiri Belohlavek. I've listened to the set and enjoyed it very much. Not hot-blooded like Szell, but full of lyricism and color. It includes the concertos and feature's Alisa Weilersteins recent cello concerto performance. Here's the link:ák-Complete-Symphonies-Concertos-digital/dp/B00M3GBXKK/ref=sr_1_1?s=dmusic&ie=UTF8&qid=1407681195&sr=1-1&keywords=belohlavek+dvorak

There's also an ongoing cycle to keep your "eye on", from Jose Serebrier and Bournemouth on the Warner Classics label. I've read some reviews which have been lukewarm, but I've really enjoyed the second, third, and sixth. A new installment will be released next month--I think they have three more to go to complete the cycle and qualify to be listed here. Here's the link:

jfl said...

Thanks for the hinter re: Jiri Belohlavek's new cycle. Somehow it flew under the radar for me. I noted it several times and then forgot again, despite being a major effort in major repertoire from a major label. Will add asap. And Jose Serebrier is finished by now; he'll have to be added, too.

All the best,


Matt said...

It looks like José Serebrier has finished his Dvorak cycle. I've seen some mediocre reviews for 7-9, but better reviews for 2, 3, and 6. I've enjoyed all three of these, but haven't listened to the whole cycle yet.

Here is the Amazon link:é-Serebrier/dp/B00W2UYOLW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1436749628&sr=8-1&keywords=serebrier+dvorak

jfl said...

Thanks for this, Matt! Will get to it. I quite like Serebrier... perennially underrated conductor, it strikes me.