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ANTONÍN DVOŘÁK: SYMPHONY No. 6, Suite A major
Marek Štryncl & Musica Florea

 

F10265   [8595017426520]   released 12/2021     

supported by Ministry of Culture Czech Republic

play all Symphony No.6; Suite A major 65:14
1.
Suita in A _ Andante con moto 4:17
2.
Suita in A _ Allegro 3:58
3.
Suita in A _ Moderato (alla Polacca) 4:25
4.
Suita in A _ Andante 3:24
5.
Suita in A _ Allegro 3:12
6.
Symfonie D dur _ Allegro non tanto 17:17
7.
Symfonie D dur _ Adagio 9:46
8.
Symfonie D dur _ Scherzo 8:03
9.
Symfonie D dur _Finale. Allegro con spirito 10:44

MUSICA FLOREA, MAREK ŠTRYNCL, conductor       www.musicaflorea.cz 

In the musical output of Antonín Dvořák his Suite in A for orchestra, from relatively late in his life, may be placed together with his earlier Suite in D (usually called the ‘Czech Suite’) and his two Serenades (for strings and for winds), forming a group of four ‘sister’ works. These are works for orchestra or major portions of an orchestra analogous to symphonies but shorter (even though they usually have, as in this case, five movements rather than the symphony’s normal four), in a somewhat more relaxed mood, and of looser formal construction, focussing more on alternating, contrasting sections than on symphonic development.

Among these ‘sisters’, however, the Suite in A has been somewhat unjustly relegated to the role of a ‘Cinderella’, relatively neglected. Perhaps this reflects the fact that Dvořák wrote it originally for piano, in 1894, whereby the orchestral version—begun 1895, completed 1896 or later—is considered merely an ‘arrangement’. However, it appears that when Dvořák began jotting motives used in the suite he may already have been thinking of an orchestral work, and in any case the ‘uniformed’ listener enjoying his lovely treatment of the orchestra here would never guess this was not its original form.

Another hindrance to dissemination of the Suite in A for orchestra was that it got off to a late start, neither performed nor published until after Dvořák’s death. But he proposed it repeatedly for a concert of the Philharmonic Society of London that he conducted in 1896, and it might well have been played on that occasion were it not for questions of balancing the programme: a longer work was wanted and thus the choice fell on the Eighth Symphony.

A special feature of the Suite in A, composed in New York, is its markedly American flavour. The elements Dvořák had identified as American in his New World Symphony, composed a year earlier—pentatonic scales, lowered leading tones in minor keys, and the syncopated rhythm of a short note on the downbeat of a measure followed by a longer one—are if anything even more evident here than there. To this we may add harmonies that occasionally evoke jazz, starting with the very first chord: a tonic triad with an added sixth degree.

As mentioned above, the four ‘sister’ works tend towards a more relaxed mood than one usually finds in symphonies. Yet emotional intensity is by no means absent. In the Suite in A one finds passages of almost excruciating melancholy, but also frolicking merriment, and overall a sense of a warm, satisfied glow.

Another work in a prevailingly positive mood, but qualifying in every way as a full-blown symphony, magnificant and noble, is Dvořák’s Symphony No. 6 in D major. Alas in this case, too, we can speak of a certain unjustified neglect in modern performing repertoire, compared with the three further works Dvořák composed in this genre, especially the ninth and last, ‘From the New World’.

The Sixth encountered a major stumbling block to its reception from the outset. Dvořák wrote it in 1880 at the request of Hans Richter, chief conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic, to be played by that orchestra. Richter, to whom Dvořák dedicated the symphony, was delighted and wrote to the composer about this ‘splendid work whose dedication makes me truly proud.’ But national tensions got in the way of the expected performance: many persons in Vienna, including many members of the Philharmonic, felt threatened by the growing demands of Czechs within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and were disinclined to promote any work by a composer of that nationality. Thus the work was not performed in Vienna until 1883, and then not by the Vienna Philharmonic but by a different orchestra. Vienna heard it no more during the composer’s lifetime. And as for the Philharmonic, it seems that—surely by some kind of strange oversight—this orchestra never performed it to this day!

Fortunately the symphony found other paths to recognition. Warmly received was the premiere in Prague in 1881, as were also, after publication by Simrock in Berlin, performances coming in a swarm in Germany, London, and Budapest starting in 1882, then by 1883 already in America. Two performances of this work in London in 1882 formed a significant landmark in awareness of Dvořák’s genius on the part of the British. Thus we read in one review: ‘The impression wrought by hearing the symphony [...] was one of unqualified delight.’ In 1884 and 1886 Dvořák himself conducted the symphony in three different places in England, bringing British enthusiasm for this work to a new peak. According to one critic:

Herr Dvorák here forces us to think of Beethoven’s empire over the realms of sound. The Bohemian, by his grandeur, his mastery of resource, and the fertility of his imagination, challenges comparison with the mighty German as no contemporary master has done or seems capable of doing.

As the most sensational part of this symphony reviewers have usually highlighted its third movement, in the rhythm of the furiant—a fast folk dance popular on the territory of Bohemia in which groups of six metric beats are divided sometimes into three groups of two, sometimes into two groups of three. In the Czech language the word furiant means, besides the dance, a proud, swaggering man, and is not necessarily related to the Italian furioso. But Dvořák’s furiant in his symphony is indeed furious, almost demonic. Nevertheless it fits well into an overall scheme that is faithful to the best traditions of Vienna, in general procedures as well as some details. Faint echoes of Beethoven may be heard especially in the first and second movements, while the first and fourth movements show several subtle but significant analogies to the Second Symphony of Brahms—to whom Dvořák felt especially beholden at this time for help in advancing his career. Moreover (as first observed in 2007 by David Brodbeck), the main theme of the opening movement is based in large part on the Grossvater-Tanz, which traditionally served as the closing dance at Viennese balls. Dvořák welds all of this into a convincing whole that sweeps the listener on and on to its final bars radiant with exultation.

David R. Beveridge


Further recordings by Marek Štryncl and Musica Florea orchestra:

        
 

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