Neeme Järvi's work in the music of Dvořák has been well documented, if not especially available over the years. In particular, his complete symphony cycle from the 1980's has never been particularly easy to acquire. First released on nine-full priced discs, it was then put in a box set to little fanfare. To make matters worse, Chandos never priced the box to compete with more "classic" cycles, and then promptly dropped all of the shorter works. Thus, I suggest finding the individual discs that appeal to you. These two contain two of the composer's evergreen symphonies, with a great coupling for each.
On the first disc, the New World receives a very solid reading that does nothing to displace the great readings of the past. More recently, his son Paavo has given us a staggeringly recorded version in Cincinnati, with an unusually valuable coupling to boot. Still, this is a fine performance. Järvi the elder really did wonderful things with the Scottish National Orchestra. The playing is very good, the sound quite natural. It lacks only the distinct touches of the great Czech ensembles and conductors. That said, if this disc fell out of the sky, there would be little reason not to enjoy and cherish it.
What makes this disc more valuable is a colorfully exciting reading of My Home. Check out that assertive brass section and you'll see why Järvi's underrated Mahler was a success, too. The same vigor and sparkle that the conductor brought to his Slavonic Dances is present here. Chandos has always seemed to like the composer's overtures, and why not? They are uniformly delightful. A fine finish.
However, I suspect collectors will be more interested by the disc containing the Symphony #7 and The Golden Spinning Wheel. By and large, the major labels – EMI and Simon Rattle excepted – continue to ignore Dvořák's tone poems as if they have some kind of disease. Like the concert overtures, they are simply excellent music. They are also substantial; The Golden Spinning Wheel lasts nearly a half hour. Working backwards then, the tone poem sounds utterly magnificent here. Järvi was always at his best in brash and colorful music. He and his Scottish National forces really tell an effective story, aided by excellent sound quality. Kudos to longtime Leader Edwin Paling and the various wind soloists for their superlative work.
In the Symphony, listeners might raise an eyebrow at the very weighty sounds on display. I also reviewed another, more recent Dvořák #7 with Mackerras on Signum (SIGCD183), and I suspect that is what most collectors are accustomed to. However, a leading critic on another website pointed out that this is a valid approach direct from the Czech school of conducting. I actually like it a lot, and it's very cool to hear a Scottish orchestra really dig in and play their hearts out. This dark and heavy way with the music is basically the opposite of Mackerras, but no less interesting for that. Whether you enjoy it or not will depend entirely on how you like your Dvořák to sound. The conductor certainly knows what he's doing, and the climaxes are extremely exciting. Would less weight have allowed a touch more detail to emerge? Possibly, but this remains one of the more personal performances in the Järvi cycle. If you're in the market for some Dvořák, these will be worth the effort to seek out.
Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman