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Jansons: Dvorak – Symphony no.9 (SACD, ISO)

Jansons: Dvorak - Symphony no.9 (SACD, ISO)
Jansons: Dvorak – Symphony no.9 (SACD, ISO)

Composer: Antonín Dvorák
Orchestra: Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra
Conductor: Mariss Jansons
Audio CD
Number of Discs: 1 SACD
Format: ISO
Label: Rco Live
Size: 2.5 GB
Recovery: +3%
Scan: yes

01. I. Adagio – Allegro molto
02. II. Largo
03. III. Molto vivace
04. IV. Allegro con fuoco

Warm, lyrical sounds, if you don’t mind that Jansons is deliberately low-key

Should the Dvorak 9th be predominately sunny? That was a question I had to ask myself repeatedly while listening to this performance. Mariss Jansons has a tendency towards gentility as a conductor and the Concertgebouw can produce glorious sounds nearly unrivaled for sheer beauty. My main fear approaching this disc was that Jansons would wallow in the wealth of his orchestra, missing dramatic flow. I had also heard his previous performance of the “New World” with the Oslo Philharmonic, a performance that was flat and unimaginative. Could he surpass himself by finding more interest in his second account?

Listening to the opening movement, we’re instantly captivated by the playing of the illustrious Concertgebouw. Jansons shows tenderness, with leading that seeks to make the most of their beauty. Unfortunately, he seems low on drama. The music moves along with more interest than his previous Oslo version, but there’s very little Czech flavor, little excitement. But the playing, well, it’s amazing.

Since Jansons doesn’t seem to be going for excitement, I figured he would be more suited to the 2nd movement. He is, but still reticent. We’re a long way from the emotional sound world of Harnoncourt with this same orchestra, who makes every bar come alive with tantalizing fervency. Still, my interest is kept, even if the drama could be multiplied without being overblown.

Eschewing Bernstein who turned the Scherzo into an all-out romp, Jansons sets a moderate pace. This movement seems to thrive whenever there’s a great orchestra to show off. Lorin Maazel wasn’t very inspired in his reading of this symphony with the Vienna Phil, but when the Scherzo came along, the playing was so rapturous all previous complaints were forgotten. I feel much the same way about this recording, although he is perhaps more musical than Maazel. He uses some unusual accents and phrasing in the trio, which may sound mannered to some, but I prefer oddity to boredom. In any event, it’s in this movement that I’m most convinced.

Entering the finale, Jansons continues his tendency to be relaxed. He prefers warm, legato phrasing to anything boisterous. Those who think humor is essential in Dvorak will boo. I’m tempted to myself, yet there’s something captivating about Jansons’ strange ideas. Jansons is trying to make a point, which is something I couldn’t say about his earlier version.

If my tone makes my feelings appear mixed, that’s because they are. I think many of Jansons’ ideas are flawed, or at least second-best, but he keeps my attention from beginning to end, even though it’s his refusal to follow our expectations that catches the ear.

And Suddenly at the Top of the Competition….

Mariss Jansons at the helm of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra seems to be a marriage made in heaven. Though there are countless recordings of the redoubtable Symphony No. 9 ‘From the New World’ of Antonin Dvorák (including some superb and timeless performances), suddenly all others pale in the splendor of this new Hybrid SACD release from Rco Live. Jansons goes for the majesty of the work, allowing all of the folk tune influences that are the core of Dvorák’s works to sing but never to take front stage form the grand architectural sweep of the symphony.

The brilliance of the Royal Concertgebouw is legendary and here it virtually glows in the sonics of the performance. Each section is exceptional and first desk solos are among the finest on record. There is an urgency to the rapid movements and a warm mellow flow to the Adagio and the Largo movements. Jansons apparently has found the comunicative niche with this orchestra and we can only expect great things to follow.

This is a wondrous recording of a symphony too often dismissed as ‘too popular’. Recommended without reservation. Grady Harp, October 05

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