Volume Three of José Serebrier’s survey of the nine symphonies of Antonín Dvořák gives us the rather wonderful Third and the magnificent Sixth.
Serebrier conducts the former with affection, moulding its fund of tunes without debilitating the symphonic process. Indeed, the superb Third Symphony is both concentrated and expansive; concise yet with passion and fantasy, something that Serebrier mines with conviction, power and heartfelt lyricism. The heart of this three-movement symphony is the doleful Adagio with its aching lines and funereal timpani; such intense if eloquent music – kept on the move by Serebrier – is swept aside by the high spirits of the finale, an exuberant, sometimes playful affair. This is music that, sadly and surprisingly, is not standard repertoire, a loss to concerts, and will likely have been unknown to the Bournemouth Symphony musicians, who play with fire and sensitivity, and make you fall in love with the music all over again while being pleased to also have the recordings by Suitner, Kubelík, Kertész and Rowicki.
In the great Sixth Symphony, better-known to orchestras if remaining in the shadows of its three successors, Serebrier allows time to savour the invention (and scoring) while bringing energy to sustain the whole without denuding the many wonderful lyrical passages. For all that Dvořák seems to have had later doubts as to whether the first-movement exposition should be repeated or not, Serebrier rightly observes it (as do Kertész and Rowicki from the above foursome of conductors), securing the movement’s large scale and imperious nature. There follows a blissful (if interrupted) slow movement, one of Dvořák’s most-heavenly creations, here given time to expand. The scherzo is puckish rather than fiery, with a lot of detail to relish. The finale, perhaps modelled on the corresponding movement of Brahms’s Second Symphony, if lacking the last degree of amiability that is a hallmark of Kubelík’s interpretation (his Berlin recording on DG is unassailable – and still sounding best on LP!), finds Serebrier sometimes forcing the pace, if leaving in no doubt that this is music with a big heart and decisive bearing.
If this venue leaves something to be desired in sonic terms – the sound is rather dry and glaring if vivid – it has been a pleasure to listen to these performances, as it is a pleasure to anticipate the next instalment of this marvellous music conducted by someone who really believes in it.