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ANTONÍN DVOŘÁK: SYMPHONIES 7 & 8
Marek Štryncl & Musica Florea

 

F10180   [8595017418020]   released 10/2009   reviews

CD I
Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Op. 70
Symphonic Variations, Op. 78

CD II
Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op. 88
Vanda, overture to the opera, Op. 25
Prague Waltzes, S. Op.
Polka “For the Prague Students”, Op. 53

play album Symphonies Nos. 7& 8 - Musica Florea 114:14 199Kč
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2475 Symfonie No.7 - Allegro maestoso 11:03 20Kč
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2476 Symfonie No.7 - Poco adagio 8:25 20Kč
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2477 Symfonie No.7 - Scherzo. Vivace 7:46 20Kč
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2478 Symfonie No.7 - Finale. Allegro 9:21 20Kč
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2479 Symphonic Variations 21:21 20Kč
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2480 Symfonie No.8 - Allegro con brio 9:47 20Kč
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2481 Symfonie No.8 - Adagio 10:15 20Kč
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2482 Symfonie No.8 - Allegretto grazioso 6:32 20Kč
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2483 Symfonie No.8 - Allegro ma non troppo 9:18 20Kč
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2484 Vanda, overture to the opera 9:35 20Kč
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2485 Prague Waltzes 8:42 20Kč
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2486 Polka "For the Prague Students" 2:06 20Kč
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MUSICA FLOREA
MAREK ŠTRYNCL
, conductor
www.musicaflorea.cz

Marek Stryncl (photo: Petra Hajska) Marek Stryncl (photo: Petra Hajska)Marek Stryncl (photo: Petra Hajska) Marek Stryncl (photo: Petra Hajska)

Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Op. 70 was written in late 1884 and early 1885. By this time its author was a world renowned composer who received this new commission from the Philharmonic Society in London. The performance of the work was no less celebrated – the premiere was held on 22 April 1885 in London’s St James’s Hall and the Society’s orchestra was conducted by the composer himself. Although the response to this first performance was exceedingly favourable, after his return to Bohemia, Dvořák subjected the work to a thorough critical revision, during which, apart from minor adjustments, he also shortened the second movement by a full 40 bars. With this new version accomplished, he was able to state with satisfaction that now there is not a single superfluous note in the work and he sent it off to the publishers. Beginning with the second performance, again in Prague with Dvořák conducting, the symphony has only ever been presented in this revised version.
      Symphony No. 7 is extremely dark in its expression, a disposition which, in the slow movement, is almost painful in places; even the Scherzo is virtually continually being pulled along by some kind of nostalgic undercurrent. The expressivity, intensified to the fullest degree, lends the work an exceptionally solid, distinctive complexion full of defiant strength and resolve. Dvořák had several inducements and reasons for this sombre, deeply philosophical contemplation. He only let some of them be known, and in very general terms at that. However, he was specific about one detail in a note which he added to the autograph of the score above the opening bars of the first movement: This main theme came to me as the ceremonial train arrived at the state railway station from Pest in 1884.
      Symphonic Variations, Op. 78 is ascribed a high opus number, however, with regard to the period it was written (1877), the piece ranks first in the selection of works contained on this CD. After it was first performed in December 1877 at a concert to raise money for the construction of a church in Prague’s Smíchov district (the Provisional Theatre [Prozatímní divadlo] Orchestra was conducted in the Žofín concert hall by Ludevít Procházka), no further performances took place for the next ten years. It wasn’t until March 1887 that Dvořák presented the work for a second time, himself conducting the National Theatre Orchestra in Prague’s Rudolfinum. He was so pleased with this new performance that he immediately sent the score to the fine conductor Hans Richter, who promptly included the piece in the programme for his tour of England and gave a hugely triumphant performance of it in London in May of that year. This was followed by a successful concert in Vienna which was attended not only by the composer, but also by Dvořák’s famous friend Johannes Brahms. Dvořák was delighted, particularly when he also received recognition in the form of a gift he deemed truly exquisite: In acknowledgement of my Variations, Brahms presented me with a wonderful cigarette holder.
      The autograph of the work bears an inscription by the composer in bright red ink: “Symphonic Variations” (Op. 28), based on an original theme taken from the choral piece “I Am a Fiddler” for large orchestra, composed and jumbled together by Antonín Dvořák. The way that he “composed and jumbled together” this masterful work is remarkable. The theme which Dvořák extracted from his own choral composition acquired in this instance a three-part form, namely a-b-a (7 + 6 + 7 bars). Dvořák thus further compounded the principal compositional task of varying the theme by repeating the melody “within the theme”. The 27 concise variations that follow, and the more extensive Finale with its spectacular fugue ingeniously graduating right up to the polka, reflect Dvořák’s compositional skill in an incredibly colourful range of expression. Even this work Dvořák revised and elaborated after the said ten-year period. After that the publisher Simrock did not linger any further with its publication although, with the opus number 78, he presented it against Dvořák’s will as a completely new work.
      Dvořák began sketching the first motifs of Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op. 88 at the end of August 1889, and during the course of September he had produced a complete sketch. He worked in excellent spirits at his beloved country home in Vysoká near the town of Příbram. After returning to Prague he concentrated on the instrumentation which he finished on 8 November. It wasn’t long before the Rudolfinum was hosting the premiere of the work, on 2 February 1890. (It was actually scheduled before that date, for 12 January, but was deferred due to a flu epidemic to which the composer’s family also succumbed.) The National Theatre Orchestra was conducted by Dvořák himself. The printed programme quoted the composer’s desire to express his thoughts in this symphony in a different way to the customary, universally applied and recognised forms. Subsequent performances of the work were also marred by various cancellations and postponements. On numerous occasions these complications arose on account of Dvořák’s publisher Fritz Simrock, who would not agree to the composer’s fees; after a protracted dispute between the two of them, Dvořák took his custom elsewhere and had the work published in 1892 by the London-based publishers Novello, Ewer & Co. For this reason the symphony is sometimes labelled “English”. None of these obstacles hindered the symphony on its road to international celebrity, however; each performance met with a hearty reception. Apart from Dvořák, who conducted the work in London on 24 April 1890 and in Frankfurt on 7 November that same year, this success was, to a large extent, also attributable to one of the finest conductors of the day, Dvořák’s great admirer Hans Richter, who conducted the work in London in July 1890 and also gave its Viennese premiere on 4 January 1891.
      Dvořák wrote the opera Vanda, Op. 25 during the latter half of 1875, leaving the overture till the end, to the last few days of December. Then 34 years of age, the composer was no novice in the composition of musical-dramatic works; in chronological terms, this was now his fourth opera. Vanda was premiered in the Provisional Theatre very shortly after its completion, on 17 April of the following year. If we consider that Dvořák the composer was at this time known only to a relatively narrow circle of insiders, these facts appear encouraging; in reality, however, the opera’s destiny was inauspicious. Given the extremely humble conditions of the theatre back then, the premiere ultimately proved to be a highly simplified staging of a drastically cut version. After four repeat performances, only one re-run took place the following year. Despite this, the composer continued to devote his energies to it, re-writing the work several times, the last occasion being exactly a quarter of a century after it was written! Together with his first revision, encouraged by preparations for the opening of the National Theatre, Dvořák even penned a completely new overture in 1879, to whose quality he promptly alerted his Berlin publisher as well: Furthermore, I have written a new overture for my grand opera “Vanda” in a highly impassioned style and I think that it is my best orchestral work. The new overture came out in print during the composer’s lifetime, published not by Simrock, but by August Cranz in Hamburg; the opera itself, however, has never been published.
      A fitting complement to this Dvořák orchestral double album are two occasional pieces intended purely as dance music – Prague Waltzes and Polka “For the Prague Students”. They show the composer in a different light, yet they are also typical of him. The sequence of five interrelated Prague Waltzes, framed by an introduction and coda, was commissioned by the committee organising the celebrations for the 30th anniversary of the popular Národní beseda patriotic annual ball. The work was premiered on Žofín island on 28 December 1879 by the military band of the 36th Infantry Regiment under bandmaster Franz Sommer. On 6 January 1881 these same musicians also performed the premiere of Polka in B flat major, written for the ball held by the Academic Readers’ Society, again on Žofín.
     Dvořák was especially suited to this genre of writing. Not only was he well acquainted with dance music from his childhood when he played in village orchestras, and from his time as a member of Karel Komzák’s band in Prague, but, above all, he was one of the few composers who were able to apply their supreme compositional craft with spontaneous elegance in several different genres and types. And it is in this creative universality that he continues to amaze us today.

Jan Kachlík

Conductor’s Note
     All human institutions, every relationship, even friendships, need to reform once in a while, they need live inducements for regeneration. Otherwise their beauty starts to fade, they become dull and, at length, they cannot function. Without exception, this also applies to musical interpretation. Over the course of several centuries, Western civilisation created a rich and varied musical legacy which had 20th century man completely nonplussed. For him, the concept of “early music” was merely a rusty link in the developmental chain and was of no special consequence for today’s society. The latter half of the 20th century, in particular, held the notion that everything that occurred was for the better and was more perfect, an idea which seized the minds of music theorists, critics, performers and audiences alike. A trend was formed which looked upon early music dismissively in an effort to “rectify” it and adapt it to contemporary requirements and modern demand. With respect to harmonic and articulatory aspects, musical works of the past were usually “re-composed” and, where interpretation was concerned, wholly alienated from the conventions and intentions of their composers. Pieces written in the 17th – 19th centuries were performed using the same expressional means as those appearing during the 20th century, which were considered the best thus far since they had emerged at the zenith of musical evolution. Publishers literally contended with each other in order to ensure that the printed scores were crammed with “original” additions which unfortunately were not in accordance with the spirit and period of the given work. The musician then, most importantly, projected himself into the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, for example; the publisher/arranger did not publish Bach’s works, but printed his own arrangements of the composer’s music. The performer ceased to be an interpreter in the true sense and the interpretational development of musical works in relation to past eras has suffered absurd consequences as a result.
Musica Florea in the Rudolfinum (photo: Petra Hajska)      The interpretational reform of our CDs of Dvořák’s symphonic music has, to a large extent, been attributable to a return to authentic instruments (or their copies) of the latter half of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Many people ask me, why should we be performing on instruments of the past when we have at our disposal instruments which are technically and mechanically much better? A counter question might be appropriate here. What if, by giving subjective preference to technico-mechanical issues, we deprive ourselves of many other perfections of musical interpretation which make the music varied and interesting, and also archaically exquisite? The period after the Second World War, in particular, saw a radical change in the notion of the ideal string sound, the main cause of which was the transition from gut to metal strings. Which had its advantages, but also its flaws. The sound became stronger, more powerful and sharp-edged. Yet we lost the palette of different colours only produced by gut strings. It was similar for the wind instruments. The French horns and clarinets, for instance, were technically not so highly developed during the Romantic period, so they had to alternate as the given piece required, which the composers of the day took into account. And this introduced into the music a heterogeneous plasticity of sound as the instruments were interchanged. Baroque and Classical composers or performers, in particular, often attached symbolic significance to individual keys or chords. For example, German organist and composer Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart (1739 – 1791) claimed that the key of E flat minor expressed the most profound despair, distrust and torment of the soul. The fondness for characteristics such as this was reinforced by the period system of tuning, namely the practical use of unequal temperaments. Every key and every chord differed from one another. Thanks to this diversity we should not view authentic Romantic instruments as developmentally obsolete; on the contrary. The archaic, colourful or disparate approaches applied to Romantic instruments bring out something of the natural and folkloric character of the music. The technocratic attitude would have us believe simply that they are out of tune, which is a serious error and betrays a lack of understanding. Period Romantic instruments prove that Romanticism continued (at least intuitively) to generate a sense of oscillation between slightly off-key and, conversely, almost naturally pure chords and keys. The elemental and purring sound of period brass instruments, the versatile tone colour of the strings, the original tempo relationships, the light articulation – all this greatly contributes to the wealth of expression and variety of sound found in Romantic music which we will not have heard in concert or on recordings, especially those from the latter half of the 20th century. Authentic Romantic interpretation not only frees us of certain ideological prejudices about the music of our forefathers, but it represents, above all, the quest for, and discovery of, the truth and originality rooted in human nature, where the spiritual capacity for human creativity also lies. Isn’t it indeed better to give Bach what is Bach’s, and Stravinsky what is Stravinsky’s? Without this endeavour, interpretation veers into blind alleys, even though it may be praised and celebrated by a host of critics.
      Some listeners might be taken aback at the excessive use of glissandos by the string players. This concerns, in particular, the second CD featuring Symphony No. 8, since we performed Symphony No. 7, recorded earlier, in the spirit of Václav Talich who, for the most part, deliberately removed this element from his interpretation of the score. Vibrato! This was used in the orchestra only minimally. And it’s astonishing how clean and neat the compositional structure of the music is without it. You will notice things about Dvořák’s works you had no idea of previously. Some will object to the choice of tempos. Of course, from an analysis of much of Dvořák’s oeuvre, it is clear that the composer literally relished melancholic and more leisurely scherzos which, despite his original intentions, began to speed up. During the course of the 20th century, various “awkward” bowings in the string parts were removed in certain movements so that these passages might be played more quickly, thus the expressional devices supporting the original Romantic agogic accentuation were paradoxically lost. On the other hand, authorities on Baroque and Classical music are aware that the Romantics followed on from these eras in many respects. Hence many sections do require “Baroque-Classical” lightness of tempo. This misunderstanding led in the 20th century to the phenomenon whereby these passages were played illogically slowly (e.g. Symphonic Variations). Romantic agogics were applied where they were never meant to be. I’m not maintaining that, in our interpretation, we have to follow the tempos exactly as Dvořák himself intended them, nevertheless they tell us a great deal about the expressive character of his works, and we are able to avoid the above-mentioned interpretational errors accordingly. In a few places it might seem as if the music lacks rhythmical unity. This is intentional (e.g. the 2nd movement of Symphony No. 7). A free rubato style is an essential part of Romanticism, while the issue of where and how it should be used is a subject for further discussion. Another interesting feature is the “unrhythmical” use of anacrusis (upbeat) in the case of the second beat in the bar, and the dragging of the third beat, in Prague Waltzes, although today’s specialists in authentic interpretation reject this “Viennese flamboyance” (such as Nicolas Harnoncourt). Why? At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries people wrote that it was inappropriate. On the contrary, this proves that musicians did incorporate these elements into their performance and certain listeners simply didn’t care for them. We do.

Marek Štryncl


REVIEWS

I've just listened to the Dvorak-CD's and I am deeply impressed by the transparancy of the sound of the orchestra and the fact that the score by Dvorak is so clear now!
I like the much more natural balance between the strings and wind instruments.
It's remarkable that the controlled vibrato gives a more direct emotional impact of the music. I hear small details I've never heard before and I knwow this music very well!
You really make this music sing like it never did before, not even with Harnoncourt.
I hope you will record more Dvorak symphonies!

Paul Janse, Hilversum, Holland

To say that I was pleasantly surprised by this issue would be an understatement. Not so long before I had heard another recent issue described as on original instruments, by a French group playing the New World Symphony. In that case any difference in timbre or style from what we are used to could not make up for a flat and uninspired performance. I cannot comment on the musicological questions involved, but I can say that these Musica Florea performances, beautifully recorded, gave me unmixed pleasure – some of the best new recordings and performances of these frequently recorded works that I have heard for many years.
     Occasional slight clumsiness resulting from use of older instruments is unimportant in this context. This group gives the impression of knowing and understanding the symphonic works, and with these instrumental timbres lines stand out clearly and tutti passages that even with the best recordings can become confused are clear. In the final climactic bars of Symphony No 7, where practically every other performance I’ve heard adds brass which so far as I know the composer never asked for or sanctioned to the sweeping second violin line (the seventy-four year old Talich and fifty year old Haitink performances being the only exceptions I can remember), this performance uses the original – and as a result we get a true natural climax, growing out of the instrumental argument in the movement, rather than a partly imposed one. In his note, the conductor doesn’t mention this specific point, but he does say he has used Talich’s recorded performance of the Seventh Symphony as a template – reasonably enough, as the young Talich would have himself have attended original performances.
     The lighter works are also exhilaratingly performed. In his notes, the conductor says that the fact that there are contemporary records condemning the use of Viennese lilt in waltzes must means that it regularly happened, and uses this as an argument for employing it all though. However, Prague was not Vienna even in the days of the Hapsburg empire, and these musicians have not had the years of experience that would enable them to achieve the unanimity and naturalness the Vienna Philharmonic in bending the rhythm – the result is self-conscious to me, and I would have preferred a rhythmically straight reading. Indeed the interpretations of the major works are notable precisely for the care and directness with which lines and phrases are shaped and tempi and structure are held – no gimmickry involved, just attention to the composer’s wishes.
     The presentation and notes and their translations are excellent. With such production values and such very competitive performances, I very much hope that these discs, distributed in Britain by Czech Music direct, receive the international press coverage they deserve. It would be a pity if the disappointing performance of the New World on another label, which has so far had more media attention, were to put buyers off the idea of original instrument performance when truly illuminating, even thrilling, results like this can be achieved by native performers.

Mark Todd, Dvorak Society Newsletter No 90 January 2010

'Dvorak on period instruments?' This was the incredulous reaction of just about all of my musician friends when I told them I was reviewing these CDs.
     However, I would like to kick off by saying that these recordings have done nothing less than completely change my understanding of Dvorak's symphonic music. Regardless of the issue of authenticity, the playing and interpretations are superb - so are these performances so very different from those of modern orchestras? The strings play without routine vibrato
and at points employ a startling but utterly authentic portamento, the brass play with an exciting edge and attack which may be as much due to the players as their instruments, while the woodwind, superbly virtuosic throughout, demonstrate powerfully what we have lost by modernising. The low tessitura of oboes and flutes, so often the subject of complaint from modern players, works beautifully on the period instruments, while the delicious folkloric tone of the clarinets is also perfect. I found myself rediscovering favourite passages in these two very familiar symphonies cast in a completely new light, and if I occasionally wished that Stryncl would have allowed his players to linger a little more on some of the lyrical passages, the dynamic sections were all stunning. The icing on the cake of these ground-breaking CDs are the 'fillers' - the wonderfully dramatic Vanda overture and the Symphonic Variations, which eloquently provide Dvorak with his most varied palette of textures and stretch the techniques of Musica Florea to the extreme. Most delightful of all are the Prague Waltzes, played with audible love and given an infectious 'viennese' swing by the performers. I have played these CDs again and again and my pleasure in them grows with each playing - thoroughly recommended.

James Ross, Early Music Forum of Scotland News


Further recording by Marek Štryncl and the Musica Florea orchestra:

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