Naxos seems to be taking the Universal Classics route when it comes to the Dvořák Sixth. Decca has two, DG has at least one of repute, and now Naxos has three. Two of those have been recent, with one in Baltimore and one in Seattle. I loved the Seattle issue, as much for Gerard Schwarz's intelligent direction as for the unique coupling (Naxos 8.572698). Now I have the slightly earlier 2010 Baltimore version in front of me, and it too is excellent. Marin Alsop has made quite a name for herself, and a lot of attention was given to her Proms appearance, but she's just a very good musician who does consistently reliable work. Case in point here.
The Sixth is a symphony I haven't seen live – although that will have been rectified by the time you all read this – yet remains one of my favorite works by this composer. As I previously noted, the first movement is simply gorgeous, the adagio one of the greatest things the man ever wrote. That third movement presto is right out of the Slavonic Dances and remains tremendously exciting. The finale is wonderful, and the piece deserves more exposure. Alsop leads a great rendition, highlighted by highly committed playing from the Baltimore Symphony, and no shortage of podium insight. The adagio is paced at a minute and a half swifter than Schwarz, and it feels more naturally flowing. I also find the third movement a hair more intense under Alsop, and I like that too. Frankly, you can't go wrong with either version.
The Nocturne is not a piece one finds very often; its inclusion is welcome here and like many of the composer's shorter works, is melodic and beautiful as one could wish. Happily, the Baltimore forces prove willing to lavish the same care on this piece as the larger symphony, and the result is a beguiling little bridge between the Sixth and the Scherzo Capriccioso. The latter work receives a well-played but rather droopy interpretation that drags a bit where it ought not do so. It's just a little too heavy, and is not up to snuff with what came before it. Still, for an excellent version of the Sixth, this is warmly recommended.
Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman