Sir Charles recorded this music exceptionally well throughout his career, but unlike many of his contemporaries his multiple versions of his core pieces somehow maintain a very high standard regardless of any external factors. In other words, regardless of his age, location, or chosen ensemble, Mackerras knew what he wanted and how to get it. These expertly played and terrifically conducted performances are no exception, and recorded live a few years before the conductor's death, they also represent a kind of last word on this music.
I've really grown to love the 7th Symphony over the last few weeks, and it's hard not to love a performance like this. Masterfully played by the Philharmonia, Mackerras just keeps the must moving in such a natural way that you can't question anything he does. There's the requisite tension and depth of expression, but never does anything turn heavy. In fact, this is one of the leaner versions of the piece I've encountered. The approach is certainly valid, and given the live setting, the sonics are warm and flatter all sections.
The 8th also receives a standard-setting performance. Right from the opening bars, you know this is going to be excellent. Credit Mackerras again for creating such a genuine Czech sound with English forces. And credit the players too; they produce an emotionally-charged reading of real feeling and passion. The folk rhythms are deliciously articulated here. Careful attention to detail and dynamics pays just as much dividend as it did in the 7th. Dvořák's unique sound world is on display here in the best possible light.
What we have here is a gorgeously played, sensitively conducted, and beautifully recorded disc that belongs in the home of anyone who loves this composer. It documents not only the career of a great artist, but also his final thoughts on a composer he championed throughout his life. There are other ways to play this music, but this remains essential.
Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman