Saturday, January 9, 2010

Dvorak - Symphonic Poems - Rattle, Berliner Philharmoniker 2cd



Dvorak - Symphonic Poems - Rattle, Berliner Philharmoniker
Symphonic | Eac, flac, cue | no log, cover | 2 CD, 301 MB
August 2, 2005 | EMI | RapidShare


Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic have not made a finer recording than this excellent two-fer containing Dvorák's four late tone poems based on grisly Czech folk legends.

And what a pleasure it is to see these hugely entertaining works being taken up by the big names on the major labels! The music itself operates within parameters comfortable to the orchestra (as opposed to, say, Mahler or Messiaen), which sounds confidently at home here. The color-filled narrative structures also give Rattle a platform on which to leave his interpretive mark without, as is so often the case, seeming to impose his ideas gratuitously on the music just to prove that he has them. The only reservation worth mentioning is his failure to solve the cymbal problem in The Water Goblin (suspended or plates--Dvorák's intentions are slightly unclear and everyone plays it differently). This matters for reasons of rhythm as much as sheer timbre. Rattle opts for suspended cymbals throughout (clearly wrong), ensuring that they remain mostly inaudible in all of the louder passages. Kubelik (DG) and Harnoncourt (Teldec) both offer better examples of how it should be done, with the former offering the ideal solution both in terms of sonic effectiveness and the indications in the score.

Elsewhere, however, even in this same work, Rattle seizes the moment. The variations representing the conversation between mother and daughter are wonderfully atmospheric and fabulously played, and the big storm at the end is aptly cataclysmic. Rattle and company romp through The Golden Spinning Wheel with keen attention to each episode. He doesn't cut the "body-part swap" section, but at the same time he holds the work together as well as anyone and brings it all home to a joyously raucous conclusion. The Wood Dove is outstanding for its vivacious central party music, taken unusually swiftly, and for the luminous textures Rattle and the players capture throughout the transfigured ending.

The Noonday Witch comes off best of all, with ferocious string playing in the Beethoven's Fifth figures at the opening, followed by a truly devilish chase/scherzo and a stunningly anguished conclusion. Note how skillfully Rattle manages the tempo adjustments after figure 15, when the father comes home and sees his wife and child unconscious--his startled reaction has an almost visual realism.

Among modern recordings, my personal preference remains Harnoncourt and the Royal Concertgebouw on Warner Classics (if you can find it), simply because the Amsterdam winds have few peers, and if anything, Harnoncourt is even more pictorially specific than Rattle. But truth to tell, the differences are rather few.

These performances are certainly satisfying taken on their own terms. The Berlin sound rests primarily on the resplendence of its strings, and they play magnificently here, not just in terms of tonal luster, but also regarding rhythm and articulation. This stands in stark contrast to their comparatively amorphous work in Abbado's Mahler Sixth (DG). The engineering also represents the best yet from this source, with solid bass, fine internal balances between sections (the barely audible cymbals in Water Goblin notwithstanding), and the overall warmth and tonal heft that you expect from a great orchestra such as this, but which seldom has been captured since Karajan's glory days. In sum, this is an easy recommendation, and one I'm particularly pleased to be able to make, critical as I have been of Rattle and his various orchestras over the years. --David Hurwitz


CD Content
The Golden Spinning Wheel
The Wild Dove (Holoubek), symphonic poem for orchestra, B. 198 (Op. 110)
The Noon Witch (Polednice), symphonic poem, B. 196 (Op. 108)
The Water Goblin (Vodník), symphonic poem, B. 195 (Op. 107)

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