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Antonin Dvorak: Symphony No. 8, Carnival.

Antonin Dvorak Symphony No. 8, Carnival

Josef Suk String Serenade in E flat major

Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Marissjansons. Text: German, English. Recorded: Jan. 2016, live (Dvorak), studio (Suk), Philharmonie im Gasteig, Munich. Released: Mar. 2016. TT: 73:14. I CD BR Klassik / BR Media 900145.

Antonin Dvorak Symphony No. 9

Modest Mussorgsky / Maurice Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition

Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Marissjansons. Text: English, French, German Recorded: Nov. 2014, live, Herkulessaal der Munchner Residenz, Munich. TT: 83:00.1 Blu-ray Concorde Home Entertainment / Clasart Classic, Blu-ray 43002 BD 25. Sound formats: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0, LPCM Stereo. Picture format: 1080p High Definition 16:9.

Antonin Dvorak Stabat Mater

Erin Wall, Mihoko Fujimura, Christian Eisner, Liang Li, Chor und Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Marissjansons. Text: German, English. Recorded: 24-26 Mar. 2015, live, Herkulessaal der Miinchner Residenz, Munich. Released: Jan. 2016. TT: 77:55. 1 CD BR Klassik / BR Media 900142.

Antonin Dvorak: Stabat Mater

Erin Wall, Mihoko Fujimura, Christian Eisner, Liang Li, Chor und Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Mariss Jansons. Text: English, French, German. Recorded: Mar. 2015, KKL Concert Hall, Lucerne. Released: Jan. 2016. TT: 83:00. 1 Blu-ray Concorde Home Entertainment / Clasart Classsic, Blu-ray 43001 BD 25. Sound formats: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0, LPCM Stereo. Picture format: 1980p High Definition 16:9.




I cannot shake off the impression that, unlike others of his generation, Mariss Jansons (b. 1943) is yet to be fully appreciated in the Czech Republic. His conducting skills have been underestimated, even though for a number of years he concurrently headed two orchestras that are ranked among the world's top ten, that is, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam (2004-2015), and the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks in Munich (2003-2021). As regards the Czech reception of Jansons's artistry, I assume that we can surely blame the marketing (upon the expiration of his year-long exclusive contract with EMI, he established collaboration with the RCO Live and BR Klassik labels, whose releases are only available for Czech listeners through online shops). Yet those who have not let themselves be discouraged by the deficiencies of the latest classical music albums' distribution in the Czech Republic will never cease to marvel at Jansons's mastery. This year, Jansons and the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks have come up with true treats for Dvorak fans: within the short interval of a few weeks, they saw the releases of their recordings of Symphonies Nos. 8 and 9, the concert overture Carnival and the oratorio Stabat Mater, supplemented with Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition in Ravel's orchestration, and Suk's Serenade in E flat major, Op. 6.

Following the recordings made in Oslo (1992), Tokyo (DVD 2000, Berliner Philharmoniker) and Amsterdam (2007/2008), the new album is Jansons's fourth disc featuring Dvofak's Eighth. When listening to them, we realise how conceptually mature a conductor Jansons already was during his tenure at the helm of the Oslo Philharmonic. In this respect, I do not only refer to the gracious, old-worldly rubato in the string figures in the second movement, but also his delicate handling of the waltz scherzo, the dynamic contrasts in the first and final movements, and the falling into silence in the second variation section of the fourth movement. If I had to name the most forcible of Jansons's recordings of Symphony No. 8, I would point at the live one from Amsterdam, which I mainly find attractive owing to the dark sound of the orchestra and its enormous rhythmic flexibility (RCO, Live 10001). On the other hand, the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks possess the utmost culture of impeccable intonation, fascinating dynamic possibilities, and its members include top-notch German instrumentalists, at least in the wind section. There are another two aces up the sleeve in Jansons's Munich CD containing Dvofak's Symphony No. 8--the sonically transparent, delicately balanced Carnival, devoid of the merest trace of orchestral bombast, and Suk's Serenade in E flat major, whose performance favourably presents the current dispositions of the orchestra's string section. One simply cannot get enough of the account of Suk's piece, so balanced is it in terms of dynamics, agogics and tempo (Jansons's ability to opt for the most natural paces is truly admirable), perhaps also because it was recorded in a studio, not live, as is the case of Dvorak's Eighth and Carnival.

Recorded live too was the New World Symphony--last year at the Herkulessaal in Munich. Following Oslo (1988) and Amsterdam (2003), it is Jansons's third live recording of the piece. In comparison with the two older accounts, this time the conductor bet on imbuing the finale with an immense emotionality, which can perhaps only compete with that captured on the Stokowski albums. Whereas the first movement, without repetition, and the Scherzo do not background the structural aspects of the composition, the Largo and the finale possess an emotional charge fully equal to that of Mahler's slow movements and Tchaikovsky's symphonic endings. The summarising traits of the finale, quoting the motivic material of the previous movements, may be somewhat drowned in the emotional current, yet, in the wake of numerous dispassionate recordings made by his peers, Jansons engrosses the listener with a deluge of affection in a first-class sonic packing. Initially, I was not overly excited about the producers' decision to put the New World Symphony and the Pictures at an Exhibition next to one another (instead of Mussorgsky's work, I would have preferred the Classical Symphony and one of Haydn's final symphonies), yet if their intention was indeed to couple within a single DVD the most popular, in the best sense the word, music there is, then the result can be deemed very good. If Jansons acts like a surgeon at rehearsals, when it comes to the Pictures, he has turned into a seasoned pharmacist, weighing out the performance on the scales grain by grain. The New World Symphony comes across as a compelling alternative, while his account of the Pictures at an Exhibition can serve as a model of unrivalled work with the orchestra, evidently being the fruit of communication (it is simply impossible not to notice on the audio-visual recording the glances continuously exchanged between the players).

Jansons's album with Dvorak's oratorio Stabat Mater, linking up to the Amsterdam recording of the same composer's Requiem, cannot be considered anything other than admirable (2009, RCO Live). The commercial catalogues of the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks contain four audio recordings of Stabat Mater, two of them made with Rafael Kubelik (1964, Living Stage; 1976, Deutsche Grammophon), one with Nikolaus Harnoncourt (2007, Sony Classical), and the most recent with Mariss Jansons. All of them are praiseworthy--Kubelik's chamber creations, Harnoncourt's rhetorical version, as well as Jansons's accomplishment, presenting as it does a precise orchestra, a superlative choir (now performing in its 70th season) and an immaculate vocal quartet, including a metallically objectivising soprano, a smooth non-vibrato-laden mezzo-soprano, a tenor bringing to bear the German declamation tradition coupled with a Slavonic timbre, and a profound bass. When listening to the recording, one cannot help but marvel at the fine dynamics, the delicate agogics, the balanced tempos, the rhythmic pulsation of the vast sections, the faculty of emphasising interesting details in the middle voices. The funeral march of the trumpets in the second part can move the listener to tears, while subsequent relief is brought by the rocking barcarole of the waltzy fifth section. The visual recording is unobtrusive, the audio quality is very high, which has been enhanced by the choir's attenuation by its sitting members and the changing of the arrangement of the soloists in the eighth part.

Jansons's recording of Stabat Mater simply overshadows a good many of the previous projects. And the Munich audience was clearly of the same opinion, bearing witness to which was its enthusiastic response to the performance, captured on both the CD and the Blu-ray disc.
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Title Annotation:"Antonin Dvorak Symphony No. 8" and "Antonin Dvorak Stabat Mater"
Author:Jemelka, Martin
Publication:Czech Music
Article Type:Sound recording review
Date:Jul 1, 2016
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