This set is not entirely complete in terms of being the composer's full orchestral output, but that's only because conductor István Kertész passed away before he could finish the project. As it stands, the nine (very full) discs still qualify as a tremendous achievement for anyone who loves this music. Kertész – especially in the early symphonies and shorter pieces – pretty much takes top prize. And even if you have other orchestras or conductors you prefer in the later trio of symphonies, these are still impressive and fresh-sounding accounts.
Competition in this music is pretty fierce, but as far as complete sets there are really only a handful worth considering. Aside from Neumann with the Czech Philharmonic (twice), there is Rowicki with this same orchestra, and Kubelik in Berlin. We live in a curious time where the CD is supposedly dying, but all five of the aforementioned sets is available on disc as I write this. I own the Kubelik and Rowicki: they are both excellent in their own way and fully worthy of being heard. The present set with István Kertész is better in the earliest works than Kubelik, although Rowicki probably is a touch more polished on his own Decca set, ironically because of the work that Kertész had previously done to teach these neglected pieces to the London players.
The last three symphonies are a tougher nut to crack. Of the three great cycles I own (again: Kubelik, Rowicki, and Kertész) none of them have a truly great Seventh. For that, you'll have to look to Colin Davis or George Szell. Kertész usually gets the nod over Rowicki here, and Kubelik is aided by the Berlin Philharmonic in top form. To be honest, critics have been trying to decide which of the three cycles is best for a very long time, and I'm not going to pretend I have the answer. I can say that Kertész conducts a beautiful and energetic Eighth, while I prefer Kubelik and Rowicki marginally in the Ninth. The Requiem may not be especially idiomatic, and it certainly isn't "Czech" in the way that Ancerl is. But it's very good all the same. As mentioned, the overtures and tone poems still sound superb.
The conductor's Vienna Ninth is not here, but give Decca credit for calling this his complete Dvořák with the London Symphony, and not trying to fool consumers. Unfortunately, long time collectors will probably have some duplication as a result: this earlier "New World" is usually coupled with the London Eighth. Last appearing in the mega-box "The Decca Sound", the earlier version is not as well recorded but also is a touch more exciting. No matter. If you want all the conductor's (London) Dvořák in one place, this is the only way to go, and at a terrific price, too.
Copyright © 2016, Brian Wigman