Dvorák: Symphonies Nos. 6 and 9 [Blu-ray audio]

Notes & Reviews:

"The jewel in the crown of Marin Alsop's survey of Dvorak's later symphonies is the Ninth. This performance really sits among the best in a crowded field, sounding as fresh as when Dvorak put pen to paper." BBC Music Magazine*****

BBC Music Magazine
Following the exemplary lead of the Nonvegian 2L label, Naxos did not so much dip a toe as dive headlong into audio-only Blu-ray with the truly ground-breaking Virtual Haydn set. Now come four more discs, suggesting that Naxos's adoption of audio only Blu-ray is no flash in the pan.

Unlike the Krtual Haydn, these discs broadly retain the programme length of a CD, even though far more could be fitted onto a Blu-ray disc. Only the pairing of Dvofik's Sixth and Ninth Symphonies breaks the 80-minute barrier and then only by less than ten minutes. It is frustrating that the fillers from the CDs of the Dvofik Symphonies have been omitted here.

With that gripe out of the way, it is possible to celebrate the considerable riches of these discs. The jewel in the crown of Marin Alsop's survey of DvofLk's later symphonies is the Ninth. This performance really sits among the best in an incredibly crowded field, sounding as fresh as when Dvoidk put pen to paper. Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra are almost as impressive in the Seventh and Eighth Symphonies, despite these being very different beasts. No detail appears to be overlooked. IfAlsop's interpretation of the Sixth Symphony does not quite reach these exalted heights, it is still characterised by exceptionally fine playing from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

On CD, the recording is remarkably good, but Blu-ray adds so much more, even in stereo. There is a natural quality to the sound that becomes most apparent when returning to the flat artificiality of the CD version. For the Chopin discs, the piano is just as much to the fore on Blu-ray as on CD, yet sounds even more crystalline.

MusicWeb International - Dave Billinge
This is the second Blu-ray Audio foray by Naxos to land on my desk. Like the Corigliano Circus Maximus the cover plugs the high resolution of the master recordings used to author the issue. Also like the Corigliano the disc wants to be connected to the internet. Naxos inform me that this is a disc authoring matter that has slipped into production but is not required. So those playing this recording can accept or reject the invitation to connect. Neither option makes any difference whatever and be assured that Big Brother is not watching you if you say 'Yes'! Apart from this, playing Blu-ray Audio is simple and can be done without a display screen. The red button on your remote control selects DTS HD 5.1 and the green one selects PCM Stereo. A nice simple arrangement. I am pleased to report that the quality of sound on the red button is again absolutely top class. Whilst no one but an audiophile extremist would claim any recording sounds like the real thing, this is as real as one can wish for. I have never entered Baltimore's Meyerhoff concert hall but I hear a believable picture of the sound from about Row M in this rather beautiful auditorium. Since I like to sit closer in any concert hall I do find this recording a little distant but that is no criticism of the engineers who have made their decision and managed it extremely well. I was struck repeatedly by the feeling that this was like an excellent standard stereo CD with added space and a lack of nasty edges. If this is indeed a result of DTS HD 5.1 mastering then I think listeners will be happy.

As to Marin Alsop's way with Dvorák I am less enthusiastic. She directs a performance of both the 6th and the 9th that I would characterise as smooth, lyrical and delicate. Nothing is misplaced and the orchestra plays very well indeed. Having attended many concerts conducted by Maestro Alsop with her ex-UK orchestra, the Bournemouth Symphony, of whom she was the principal conductor for several years and is now Conductor Emeritus, I recognise the same good and less good points. These are beautiful performances but lacking some drama. Tempi often seem just a notch too relaxed. Moments when the music seems to demand more rhythmic edge get instead more careful shaping. There is much to enjoy in both symphonies but I find more in the classic Kertesz recordings and in the New World particularly I find Wolfgang Sawallisch's ancient recording with the Philharmonia (1960) has drama, depth and all round sparkle that this lacks. However, no other performances are likely to be better recorded than these and they can be recommended with slightly muted enthusiasm.

Blu-rayDefinition.com - Lawrence Devoe
Antonin Dvorák needs no formal introduction to classical music lovers. Like Tchaikovsky, he was incapable of writing music that was not tuneful or did not fall easy on the ear. This Blu-Ray audio-only disc features the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra under its principal conductor, Marin Alsop whose career has been in ascendancy for the past two decades. Entering the Dvorák arena, however, raises the comparison bar, since so many outstanding recordings of these works already exist, albeit in lower resolution formats. Do Alsop and the BSO pass the Dvorák test?

Symphony No. 6 is not as frequently played as its successors which is a pity considering the considerable musical invention present here. There are clear echoes of Dvorák's mentor, Johannes Brahms, in the heart-rending Adagio but there are also the ever present melodies and infectious rhythms inspired by Czech folk music. From the start, it is clear that Alsop has her orchestra under tight rein. The beat, so important to Dvorák's music, is crisp and precise. To her credit, Alsop avoids the common temptation to luxuriate in this beautiful music and keeps the instrumental coordination is perfect.

Symphony No. 9 (From the New World) is Dvorák's homage to his stay in the United States near the end of the 19th century. It has deservedly acquired "war horse" status in the symphonic repertoire resulting in dozens of available digital recordings, albeit, none in Blu-ray audio. If one can call a classical symphony, a "muscle" piece, this is it and, unfortunately, the BSO does not quite have the physique of the orchestral big boys. However, this reading is taut, well paced, and certainly a good listen in all respects. As in the accompanying piece, I was pleased with overall control of the opening Adagio and subsequent Largo with its familiar "Going Home" melody, both of which have a tendency to drag under lesser conductors.

Audio Quality
The soundtrack in DTS-HD Master Audio and uses the hall effects judiciously. The sound stage features good orchestral spread. The solo instruments are reproduced in realistic space and there is warmth in the music as it is heard in live venues. The perspective is that of a good center mid-orchestral seat. My quibbles stem from a lack of body to the string section and insufficient bite to the brass. I have not been to the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall so some of this might be a by-product of the recording's location.

Supplemental Materials
There are no supplemental interviews.

The Definitive Word
Overall:
This is a music-making at a very high level with a world-class conductor and very capable, if not top five, symphony orchestra. I was favorably impressed with the management of tempi which can often succumb to the rich romanticism of both pieces. The naturalness of the recording gives a sense of place which is the point of the added channels of surround sound. There are many standard definition Dvorák symphonic cycles from which to choose. However, there is no direct competition in the BD catalog. Get this disc for the Symphony No.6, one of my personal favorites, and you will not be disappointed.

Audiophile Audition - John Sunier
This is the second of the two Dvorák audio-only Blu-rays Naxos has issued this month as part of their continuing series, getting back into hi-res surround after giving up on SACD and DVD-A some time ago...

Again, the performances and sonics cannot be faulted on either symphony, and partly since I hadn't heard the New World Symphony for some time, I found it extremely fresh-sounding and enjoyable, which I hadn't expected frankly. The Sixth holds a strong influence of Dvorák's mentor Johannes Brahms, but it also includes the folk influences of his Bohemian homeland in a similar way that Brahms uses references to gypsy music. It has a lovely slow movement in B Flat, and for the lively Scherzo Dvorák uses a Czech peasant dance - contrasting effectively with the more pastorale Trio section. The Brahms influence sounds especially strong in the rich theme and orchestration of the finale and the work ends in a most positive and triumphant mood.

The New World Symphony hardly needs further explanation. This is one of its better interpretations to my ears, though I didn't compare it to any others. Also has raised the Baltimore Symphony to a very high standard, and the lossless Blu-ray ray audio captures it with much better fidelity than the lossy codecs to which standard DVDs are limited. The Sixth was recorded at 88.2K and the Ninth at 96K, both with 24-bit word length. I've read that some audiophiles claim they can hear subtle degradations in so-called lossless formats that are not audible in straight, say, 96K/24bit PCM. I'm afraid I can't. One non-sonic advantage of audio-only Blu-ray would be that this pairing of the two symphonies runs seven and one-half minutes over the 80-minute limit of SACDs. Of course 96K/24bit DVDs would offer the same extended length, but only in two channels.

Gramophone
These audio-only Blu-ray discs combine 5.1-channel DTS-HD Master Audio and stereo LPCM taken from 24-bit 88.2kHz original recordings and show Naxos as innovative as ever, leading the way in exploring technology.

Recorded live in Baltimore's Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, when played on a Blu-ray player and surround sound system they deliver not only riveting performances but a wonderful sense of space and presence. More please, Naxos!

Soundstage.com - Rad Bennett
Marin Alsop gets everything right in the "New World" symphony. Her tempos are insistent and dramatic, her melodic instincts are passionate and bold, and she has her Baltimore musicians playing with fever-pitch precision and resounding tone. This performance, combined with Andrew Walton's production skills, which create a warm and lively sound with excellent presence, offers a reading that holds up to most of the others in any format. Maybe it was Walton's presence, as the sixth symphony was produced by Steve Epstein and seems a more dutiful and drier affair that can't compete with the radiant and driven performances of Istvan Kertesz and Rafael Kubelik, even though the Baltimore Symphony plays wonderfully throughout. There's a second, companion Blu-ray (NBD0010) with the somber seventh and sunny eighth symphonies. Eight, not seven, is Alsop's lucky number on that disc, though both recordings, engineered by Epstein, are somewhat dry. The sixth and ninth symphonies contain filler pieces on the CD version, but those are left out here. Their absence seems odd, since Blu-ray is supposed to offer remarkably extended playing time.

For those with Blu-ray players, these discs are well worth investigating, though they could be a case of too little too late.

David's Review Corner - David Denton
As a young teenager I bought Dvorak's New World symphony with Rafael Kubelik conducting the Chicago orchestra in the early days of LP, in the sure belief that sound would never be more realistic.
Since then every major orchestra and all of the great - and the not so great - conductors have recorded the New World to the point that there is nothing left that has not already been said. To Marin Alsop's credit she has wiped away the countless interpretive encrustations and has resisted the temptation of adding any of her own. The result I can best sum up as 'a performance for the 21st century'. The Sixth is a very different matter, and to my ears this is one of the very finest on disc. Again she has avoided the quirky lilt that critics have often described as 'idiomatic', though the symphony is more purposeful than any of his scores and needs a sure guiding hand to direct it. The big climatic passage concluding the opening movement, and the vigorous finale, are here tremendously exciting, while the cross-rhythms of the scherzo skip along with infectious good humour. I have to conclude these two Dvorak reviews by musing where Blu-ray audio will take us, for it comes with the caveat that we can only fully experience its very marked advances if heard on equipment that comes with a hefty price tag. One thing is for sure - we have come a long way since Kubelik and the Chicago!

Audiophile Audition - John Sunier
This is the second of the two Dvorßk audio-only Blu-rays Naxos has issued this month as part of their continuing series, getting back into hi-res surround after giving up on SACD and DVD-A some time ago...

Again, the performances and sonics cannot be faulted on either symphony, and partly since I hadn't heard the New World Symphony for some time, I found it extremely fresh-sounding and enjoyable, which I hadn't expected frankly. The Sixth holds a strong influence of Dvorßk's mentor Johannes Brahms, but it also includes the folk influences of his Bohemian homeland in a similar way that Brahms uses references to gypsy music. It has a lovely slow movement in B Flat, and for the lively Scherzo Dvorßk uses a Czech peasant dance - contrasting effectively with the more pastorale Trio section. The Brahms influence sounds especially strong in the rich theme and orchestration of the finale and the work ends in a most positive and triumphant mood.

The New World Symphony hardly needs further explanation. This is one of its better interpretations to my ears, though I didn't compare it to any others. Also has raised the Baltimore Symphony to a very high standard, and the lossless Blu-ray ray audio captures it with much better fidelity than the lossy codecs to which standard DVDs are limited. The Sixth was recorded at 88.2K and the Ninth at 96K, both with 24-bit word length. I've read that some audiophiles claim they can hear subtle degradations in so-called lossless formats that are not audible in straight, say, 96K/24bit PCM. I'm afraid I can't. One non-sonic advantage of audio-only Blu-ray would be that this pairing of the two symphonies runs seven and one-half minutes over the 80-minute limit of SACDs. Of course 96K/24bit DVDs would offer the same extended length, but only in two channels.

Blu-rayDefinition.com - Lawrence Devoe
The Performance

Antonin Dvorßk needs no formal introduction to classical music lovers. Like Tchaikovsky, he was incapable of writing music that was not tuneful or did not fall easy on the ear. This Blu-Ray audio-only disc features the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra under its principal conductor, Marin Alsop whose career has been in ascendancy for the past two decades. Entering the Dvorßk arena, however, raises the comparison bar, since so many outstanding recordings of these works already exist, albeit in lower resolution formats. Do Alsop and the BSO pass the Dvorßk test?

Symphony No. 6 is not as frequently played as its successors which is a pity considering the considerable musical invention present here. There are clear echoes of Dvorßk's mentor, Johannes Brahms, in the heart-rending Adagio but there are also the ever present melodies and infectious rhythms inspired by Czech folk music. From the start, it is clear that Alsop has her orchestra under tight rein. The beat, so important to Dvorßk's music, is crisp and precise. To her credit, Alsop avoids the common temptation to luxuriate in this beautiful music and keeps the instrumental coordination is perfect.

Symphony No. 9 (From the New World) is Dvorßk's homage to his stay in the United States near the end of the 19th century. It has deservedly acquired "war horse" status in the symphonic repertoire resulting in dozens of available digital recordings, albeit, none in Blu-ray audio. If one can call a classical symphony, a "muscle" piece, this is it and, unfortunately, the BSO does not quite have the physique of the orchestral big boys. However, this reading is taut, well paced, and certainly a good listen in all respects. As in the accompanying piece, I was pleased with overall control of the opening Adagio and subsequent Largo with its familiar "Going Home" melody, both of which have a tendency to drag under lesser conductors.

Audio Quality

The soundtrack in DTS-HD Master Audio and uses the hall effects judiciously. The sound stage features good orchestral spread. The solo instruments are reproduced in realistic space and there is warmth in the music as it is heard in live venues. The perspective is that of a good center mid-orchestral seat. My quibbles stem from a lack of body to the string section and insufficient bite to the brass. I have not been to the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall so some of this might be a by-product of the recording's location.

The Definitive Word

This is a music-making at a very high level with a world-class conductor and very capable, if not top five, symphony orchestra. I was favorably impressed with the management of tempi which can often succumb to the rich romanticism of both pieces. The naturalness of the recording gives a sense of place which is the point of the added channels of surround sound. There are many standard definition Dvorßk symphonic cycles from which to choose. However, there is no direct competition in the BD catalog. Get this disc for the Symphony No.6, one of my personal favorites, and you will not be disappointed.

David's Review Corner - David Denton
As a young teenager I bought Dvorak's New World symphony with Rafael Kubelik conducting the Chicago orchestra in the early days of LP, in the sure belief that sound would never be more realistic.
Since then every major orchestra and all of the great - and the not so great - conductors have recorded the New World to the point that there is nothing left that has not already been said. To Marin Alsop's credit she has wiped away the countless interpretive encrustations and has resisted the temptation of adding any of her own. The result I can best sum up as 'a performance for the 21st century'. The Sixth is a very different matter, and to my ears this is one of the very finest on disc. Again she has avoided the quirky lilt that critics have often described as 'idiomatic', though the symphony is more purposeful than any of his scores and needs a sure guiding hand to direct it. The big climatic passage concluding the opening movement, and the vigorous finale, are here tremendously exciting, while the cross-rhythms of the scherzo skip along with infectious good humour. I have to conclude these two Dvorak reviews by musing where Blu-ray audio will take us, for it comes with the caveat that we can only fully experience its very marked advances if heard on equipment that comes with a hefty price tag. One thing is for sure - we have come a long way since Kubelik and the Chicago!



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