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Iván Fischer's Dvořák "Cyclet"

available at Amazon
Dvořák, Symphony 7 / "American" Suite, Budapest Festival Orchestra, I. Fischer

(released on June 8, 2010)
Channel Classics SA 30010 | 59'

available at Amazon
Dvořák, Symphonies 8/9, Budapest Festival Orchestra, I. Fischer

(re-released on June 8, 2010)
Channel Classics SA 90110 | 78'

Online scores:
Dvořák, op. 98 | Symphony 7
Symphony 8 | Symphony 9

available at Amazon
M. B. Beckerman, New worlds of Dvořák: searching in America for the composer's inner life

available at Amazon
J. Horowitz, Dvořák in America: In Search of the New World
Iván Fischer is not a fan of recording cycles of complete symphonies, if we are to believe what he said in an interview with Jens Laurson a few years ago. That was in reference to his excellent Mahler recordings with the orchestra he founded in his native Hungary, the Budapest Festival Orchestra (then just the second and sixth, to which he added a fourth in 2009). He appears to be taking a similar approach to the symphonies of Antonín Dvořák, also recording just a few works here and there, according to what strikes his fancy.

The eighth and ninth symphonies just put out by Channel Classics is a re-release of an older disc from Philips. The ninth is, without a doubt, the most over-recorded and over-performed Dvořák symphony of them all (heard live in a memorable performance from Temirkanov with the BSO a few years ago, which was a hard act for Marin Alsop to follow), with new recordings appearing all the time. Fischer's take on both of these symphonies was something special, containing plenty of suavity and intensity without becoming vulgar bombast, and they continue to be worthwhile, although at import prices (in the Channel Classics version) perhaps not the best option.

We have reviewed Fischer conducting both the seventh and eighth symphonies with the National Symphony Orchestra during the last two years of his time as Principal Conductor. The result with the local band was not as impressive or unified as what he accomplished with the BFO back in Hungary, a group one senses is more cohesive under him as their leader. On these recordings of the seventh and eighth symphonies one begins to understand better what Fischer was after with the NSO. In none of these movements are all the entrances and ensemble moments perfectly coordinated, but there is a sense of the collective surging and receding that Fischer's fluctuating beat often seems to be trying to show. The individual playing is generally fine, with some sectional issues in the strings, but an overall warm glow to the strings and incision from the winds and brass where needed. The strongest sections are not the most forthright and loud ones, which any orchestra worth its salt can handle, but the gloom and mystery of the softer passages.

One is tempted to say that those moments, modally inflected and often subdued, are especially Czech in nature. To what degree music composed by Dvořák in this period was influenced by his extended stay in the United States is open to debate. Two recent books on the composer's experiences in the United States, by Michael Brim Beckerman and Joseph Horowitz, try to analyze the surviving documents and the scores to analyze any American qualities in the music. The truth is that the sound Dvořák so memorably created was no more truly American than it was exclusively truly Czech, a homogenizing way with harmony and orchestration that one can identify as having a folk orientation, what Beckerman calls Dvořák's "cosmoslavitan approach" (p. 13). That the so-called "New World" symphony has less to do with American folk music than you might think is a long-established fact, and the suite that goes by the subtitle "American" does so primarily because it was composed here, initially for piano and then in a version for orchestra shortly before he returned home. It is a pleasant enough piece, paired nicely on this disc with the seventh symphony, but it seems mostly light and decorative rather than substantial (indeed, like many suites), with only the last two movements, which sound more "Czech" than "American" (whatever that means), really standing out as particularly inventive.

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