It has been a while since we heard from José Serebrier and his Dvořák Symphony Cycle. This is Volume Four (and Volume 5 is close behind, and includes Symphony 8). The three Slavonic Dances that open this disc point to a new sonic departure in the same venue, which this time reveals the Lighthouse as being too reverberant and spacious, although the sound is certainly lively, vivid and dynamic. Serebrier leads readings of these Dances that are full of character, maybe a little too teasing at times and with lines competing for attention rather than being complementary. Nevertheless there is plentiful lilt, fire and detail, and nothing that is routine or impersonal. At the beginning of the C major Dance from Opus 72, Serebrier omits the opening few bars when taking the repeat; curious, but George Szell also did this.
There follows the large-scale Symphony 2, from 1865 (the composer in his early-twenties), lasting here 51 minutes. Like so much of Dvořák’s music, although it is rarely played, Symphony 2 contains some compelling and memorable music, full of atmosphere and picturesque touches as well as strong and endearing material. The recording is a little edgier than in the Dances, and also a little blowsy in the bass (different engineers are credited), and the very beginning is a mite inexact. Yet it is a terrific performance, right up there with Kertész and Rowicki, and, on this occasion, more so than Kubelík and Suitner as part of their respective cycles. Serebrier’s keeps the music on the move, but without haste, investing description and strength and admitting to Wagner and anticipating Glazunov (whose music Serebrier is a champion) and even Charles Ives’s earliest attempts at being a symphonist.
Under Serebrier’s virile and sensitive conducting, the substantial first movement (with exposition repeat) is excitingly unfurled and full of incident. With the arresting slow movement that follows, we are ‘forest legend’ territory, a dark if enchanted lyricism to the fore. The scherzo and finale find Dvořák at his most urbane and quixotic, the former movement beguiling and stamping – intoxicating – and the finale is deliciously folksy, with many a pleasure, something shared with affection and perception by Serebrier and a willing Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, and building by stealth to a resolute and sizzling conclusion, piccolo cutting through.