Dvořák Symphony No 8 & 9 Philips

Déjà Review: this review was first published in October 2001 and the recording is still available.

Antonin Dvořák (1841-1904)
Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op.88
Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 “From the New World”
Budapest Festival Orchestra/Iván Fischer
rec. 2000, Italian Institute, Budapest 
Presto CD
Philips 464 640-2 [78]

The Budapest Festival Orchestra was established in 1983 by Iván Fischer and the pianist, Zoltán Kocsis. Initially a band which gave occasional concerts and made recordings, it was placed on a permanent footing in 1992 as the orchestra of Budapest. With Fischer they have made a number of well-received recordings, primarily featuring the music of Hungarian composers such as Liszt, Bartók and Kodály. I see from their website that one of their earlier recordings, for the Quintana label featured Dvořák’s 8th Symphony.

These new performances are extremely well played and are presented in sound which is clear, rich and full. There is just the right amount of space around the orchestra so that quiet playing registers beautifully while the climaxes expand naturally.

As for the music itself, Fischer presents both works in a straightforward and idiomatic way. He encourages his wind players in particular to phrase beautifully (a lovely cor anglais solo in the second movement of the “New World”) and the strings have plenty of body and depth of tone. The third movement of the “New World” is a good example of the standard of performance on offer here. The scherzo itself is biting and brilliant while the trio is charming and delightfully poised, featuring some lovely work both from the strings and the wind.

The Eighth, my own favourite, receives a most winning, lyrical performance, typified by the warmth with which the gorgeous cello melody is delivered at the outset. If, once again, I highlight the contributions of the wind and strings that is not meant to slight the brass players who are of a similarly high standard. One point of detail: Fischer gets the strings to play the theme of the third movement with portamento. I thought this a lovely touch.

With this release Fischer and his colleagues enter a very competitive field. However, they offer extremely fine versions of both symphonies which must now be counted among the best available. Warmly recommended.

John Quinn

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