Dvořák’s New World Symphony/Marin Alsop

0 of 5 stars

Symphonic Variations, Op.78
Symphony No.9 in E minor, Op.95 (From the New World)

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Marin Alsop

Recorded 8-10 June 2007 in Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Baltimore

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: June 2008
CD No: NAXOS 8.570714
Duration: 65 minutes



The ever-popular ‘New World’ Symphony is placed second on the disc. Marin Alsop – working with her new orchestra (since the 2007/8 season), and recorded live – leads a well-prepared performance that serves the music very well. That said, there are no particular revelations, nor much that makes this umpteenth version stand out in a very crowded field. The scherzo is driven at pace, and with none of the tiresome slowing that has become ‘traditional’, although a charge of breathlessness could also be made (and the trio coos less than it can). In the first movement, Alsop makes a good fist of taking the three-section exposition (which she repeats) in a single breath, but she can’t resist the odd tweak – and therefore can’t emulate either Colin Davis (his Amsterdam Concertgebouw version on Philips) and Kyril Kondrashin (Vienna Philharmonic/Decca) in the respect of complete integrity.

Elsewhere, a certain relentlessness sets in and although there are myriad changes of dynamic and gratifying attention to detail and inflexion, the performance (however compiled from the concerts) falls short of sustaining interest, the world-famous second movement Largo lacking that last degree of poetry to make it special. Indeed, a little more indulgence would have been welcome – not as distended as in Leonard Bernstein’s very personal Israel Philharmonic version on DG (a fabulous interpretation, nevertheless) – but just to show rather more identification with the music other than through its familiarity.

It’s good to have Symphonic Variations included. If the popularity of the symphony – and the following that Marin Alsop has developed – bring a new wave of listeners to this delectable and masterly score, then so much the better. Alsop seems closer to this work than she does the symphony and shapes it beguilingly – with affection, breathing space, lilt and final exultation.

As recorded, Meyerhoff Symphony Hall seems rather too cavernous and with the front-to-back perspective too deep. The sound is generally good in the Variations (filigree well captured, even if fortissimos verge on the stentorian); but, in the symphony, timpani are relegated to the back of beyond and lack clarity while the brass is overloud (in the boorish modern manner) and threatens to cover the strings – and occasionally succeeds.

A decent ‘New World’, then, that cannot challenge the very best, but Opus 78 is brought off with distinction and gives much pleasure.

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