Antonín Leopold Dvořák (08.09.1841 – 01.05.1904) was a Czech, Romantic composer. Dvořák developed and extended the Czech nationalist movement in music that had been started by the composer Bedřich Smetana.
Dvořák is best known for this work the Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95 ‘From the New World’ which he wrote late in his career when he was based in New York. In total he wrote nine symphonies of which five were published during his lifetime. His Slavonic Dances Nos. 1-8, Op. 46 Nos. 1-8 and Slavonic Dances Nos. 9-16, Op. 72 Nos. 1-8 are also popular and well worth hearing. He wrote a highly accomplished cello concerto and also concerti for both the violin and the piano. Dvořák also wrote a great deal of chamber music; particularly noteworthy pieces being his Piano Trio No. 4 in E minor, Op. 90 (B166) ‘Dumky’ and his String Quartet No. 12 in F major, Op. 96 ‘American’.
The ‘New World’ symphony was premiered at the Carnegie Hall, in New York, in December 1893 where it was greeted with applause at the end of each movement and Dvořák declared to his publisher Simrock that ‘the people clapped so much I had to thank them from the box like a king’. Shortly afterwards the work met with success in Europe and in rapid time the work gained status as one of the finest symphonies ever written; a reputation that it holds to this day.
Dvorak’s ‘New World’ Symphony was one of the two recordings chosen by astronaut Neil Armstrong to take to the moon. Perhaps it was a personal favourite, or perhaps he looked upon the Moon as a “New World” – who knows!
The symphony is written in four movements; Adagio – Allegro molto, Largo, Scherzo (Molto vivace) and Allegro con fuoco. The first movement begins with a dramatic, slow introduction with syncopated rhythms that anticipate the striding initial theme of the main allegro. The slow movement, the famous Largo, commences with some solemn chords on the wind instruments and the cor-anglais comes in with a highly memorable, almost spiritual melody. This movement became even more familiar after its use in a number of television adverts in the UK, particular the Hovis bread advert that has led to many Classic FM listeners requesting to hear then ‘Hovis music’. The third movement is complex in structure and includes a lilting trio that resembles Schubert! A number of themes reappear in the final movement before the symphony finishes with a fiery tutti and a valedictory final chord that comes as something of a surprise.
There are well over 300 performances of this work in the current catalogue. Many of these are of a very high standard, but our particular favourite is performed by the Berliner Philharmoniker (Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra) and is conducted by the late Czech-born conductor Rafael Kubelik who was renowned for his eloquent, deeply personalised interpretations of many works. In these performances the piece is played with a freshness and vigour that gives one a sense of what it must have been like to hear it in one of its first performances. The orchestral work is outstanding and the musicians approach the work with great sensitivity; none more so than the woodwinds who play with imagination and produce sounds of pure poetry.
Although this recording dates back to the 1970s it is first class and exhibits an enormous dynamic range. The effect of the recording is to suggest that you are in an excellent seat some way back from the orchestra so that the sound is well balanced and nothing is too brightly spotlit.