Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Dvorak: Symphony #6

We return to Dvorak after an extremely long hiatus to listen to his Sixth Symphony, performed on a CD recorded live by the London Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Sir Colin Davis.
Sir Colin Davis and the London Symphony Orchestra
Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904)

Dvorák: Symphony No. 6
LSO Live, 2004

If you're in the early stages of building a classical music collection and are wondering whether you should include this work, let me be brief: don't bother. Dvorak has more impressive symphonies. If you want his best-known work, get this excellent recording of his Ninth; if you want to impress your friends with your originality by owning one of Dvorak's less-well-known work, then get the Seventh or Eighth Symphony (or both--they can be found on one CD here).

This symphony was beautiful and well-played, don't get me wrong. But I failed to connect with it on an emotional level, and the four movements just didn't seem to go together. The symphony didn't sound like a coherent whole to me.

Listener notes for Dvorak's Sixth Symphony:
1) The primary melody of the first movement is simple and kind of catchy.

2) Mumbling conductor alert: if you listen very closely at 4:30 in the first movement, you can hear the microphones pick up Sir Colin mumbling the melody along with the strings. You'll hear him off and on throughout the entire symphony. Somebody put a mike just a bit close to the podium, eh?

3) The tension that Dvorak puts into the first movement seems to me to be a bit artificial. I can hear that he's trying to create tension, yet I don't actually feel the tension. Do any readers out there who are familiar with this symphony agree with me?

4) Off-key clarinet alert! In the second movement from 0:19 to 0:24. Contrast this with two parts later in the movement, from 2:46 to 3:00 and 3:48 to 4:15, where he does a much better job of nailing the part.

5) I consider the second movement to be the most beautiful movement of the symphony, but don't you agree that it doesn't really go with the first movement? An example of this work's lack of coherence.

6) The third movement is classic Dvorak: pure, toe-tapping, Eastern European folk melodies. I love it!

7) Listen to the fourth movement from 2:35 to 2:38 for the offsetting eighth notes played by the strings. I'm sure this part gets screwed up more often than not in live performances. The LSO sounds great here.

8) The last two minutes of the fourth movement, particularly the passage from 8:35 to 9:00, are really rollicking, aren't they?


Tom said...

Really glad to read your text on the 6th symphony, which is my favourite Dvorak, and as you say, not one that most people have much to say about. It's a shame it's not one of your favourites, but that's the beauty of music - everyone likes something different!

I particularly love the first movement - it flows along so smoothly, with simple, gentle themes in the strings and woodwind set against the dotted accompaniment in the brass. I also love how Dvorak mixes up the rhythms as the climax of the exposition approaches, and for me it's a glorious moment to hear the brass blazing out that triplet motif on the second beat of the bar.

Daniel Koontz said...

Hi Tom, thanks for your thoughts. I always love to hear an opposing view on any classical work. Thanks for sharing! I'll have to give it a few more listens--maybe I'll come around. :)