Dvořák's nine symphonies have received considerable attention of late so it's good to revive memories of the times when these works (apart from the final three) were all but unknown. Decca led the way with their trailblazing complete cycle recorded 1965-71 under István Kertész followed by Kubelík on DG and Rowicki on Philips, the set that has been re-released here in a Decca guise.
It is interesting to compare these contemporaneous accounts with Kertesz's recordings and more often than not, the speeds Rowicki employs are almost identical although I still have to yield to Kenneth Wilkinson's magnificent recordings in the old Decca set. The first two symphonies are commendable here with Rowicki finding much magic and mystery in the expansive second movements of each work. In the Third, momentum is the keyword with the gorgeous slow movement expanding to almost epic proportions.
The Fourth is almost like a Cinderella but its Scherzo is one of my perennial favourites with the tangible sounds of the triangle coming through quite magically here. Rowicki's Fifth is full of great beauty and emotion especially in the Finale – one of the finest movements Dvořák ever wrote. The Sixth is similarly ebullient with its lovely slow movement extremely expressive and the Finale sure and assured.
The Seventh Symphony is perhaps slightly low key while the Eighth could do with a bit more power – something which George Szell understood very well in his classic Decca recording of the work. Rowicki's New World is slightly underwhelming but nevertheless it's a fine conclusion to a seminal set. The accompanying overtures are also given full blooded treatment and are comparable to Kertész's rambunctious accounts. This is all in all a fine set and is recommended for those wishing to discover Dvořák again.
Copyright © 2011, Gerald Fenech