Orchestra: Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Fritz Reiner
Composer: Antonin Dvorak
Number of Discs: 1
Format: FLAC (image+cue)
Label: JMC / Xrcd
Size: 234 MB
Symphony No. 9 in E minor (“From the New World”), B. 178 (Op. 95)
(first published as No. 5)
Composed by Antonin Dvorak
Performed by Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Conducted by Fritz Reiner
01. Adagio…Allegro molto
03. Molto vivace…Poco sostenuto
04. Allegro con fuoco
Still one of the greatest performances of an often recorded symphony.
Dvorak’s Symphony No.9 “From the New World” has been well served in recordings by virtually every major conductor and label but this 1957 recording by Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has stood out as one of the finest for a very long time now, and rightfully so. American symphony orchestras really hit their stride after the Second World War, and Chicago under Reiner was one of the finest. The combination of Reiner, the CSO and RCA recorded a number of practically definitive performances together of Richard Strauss, Brahms, Prokofiev, Bartok, Hovhannes and of course this one.Before Reiner Chicago’s Musical Directors had been Kubelik and Rodzinski, so they were already versed in Eastern European music and were as likely as that other great interpreter of Dvorak, The Cleveland Orchestra, to have a number of musicians of Eastern European ancestry among their members. It seems somehow fitting that a heartland orchestra like Chicago would have recorded such an outstanding performance of Dvorak’s great work.
How much of it is from the New World has been the subject of endless debate from its December, 1893 premiere, and Dvorak himself wisely steered clear of definitive statements, only stating that it was written in the spirit of America, but did not use actual Native American themes or Negro melodies. As musicologists have pointed out, one can hear anything from Swing Low Sweet Chariot to Three Blind Mice in it. The famous and tender Largo was made into a “traditional” spiritual with words added by William Arms Fisher with the amusing result that some scholars mistakenly accused Dvorak of taking the “spiritual’s” melody rather than the other way around; this is also, of course a tribute to how well Dvorak’s music conveyed the feeling he intended.
Each movement is played with a perfect sense of tempo and mood, powerful in the big Allegro, tender in the Largo without ever dragging, alternately fierce and graceful in Scherzo and grand in the Finale with its famous recapitulation of the big “American” theme of the first movement. All of the orchestral color for which Dvorak is famous is there in full measure. Under Reiner’s precise baton, the CSO have gotten everything right. The RCA Living Stereo (their answer to Mercury Living Presence) captures the performance beautifully and Rca even restored the original tube amplifiers in making the CD to get the true image of the Living Stereo sound.
Being a CD there are now accompanying pieces, all of a Czech flavor. Dvorak’s Carnival Overture is rousing in its beginning and end and tender in its romantic mid-section. Smetana’s Bartered Bride Overture gets a fine performance that moves briskly and shows why it has always been a popular encore piece. But next, where one would usually expect the three dances from The Bartered Bride, we get a real rarity, Jaromir Weinberger’s Polka and Fugue from Schwanda the Bagpiper. It is much in the spirit of Smetana’s dances but has Impressionist influences in the score as it was written in the Twenties. You rarely see this piece recorded, but it was Weinberger’s only unqualified hit, enormously popular in the Thirties and Forties and even done at the Met which is where Reiner may have heard it during his tenure there before Chicago. It’s simple fun and not much more than that, but Reiner brings a sense of occasion to it, especially in fugue and finale which accompany Schwanda’s escape from Hell in the opera, which ends with the orchestra in ful triumphal spirit.
The smaller pieces are fun and the New World Symphony is one of the great performances of the work. Get it without hesitation.