Mackerras Dvořák

0 of 5 stars

Symphony No.6 in D, Op.60
The Golden Spinning Wheel, Op.109

Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Sir Charles Mackerras

Recorded in the Rudolfinum, Prague on 14 June 2001 (Spinning Wheel) and 17-18 October 2002

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: September 2004
Duration: 70 minutes

Don’t be put off by the CD’s cover, which sports a rather unflattering photograph of Sir Charles Mackerras, the New York-born Australian who has spent a lifetime in the service of Czech music. Sir Charles was actually born (in 1925) in Schenectady, not far from Dvořák’s American home. A good omen. In 1947 he went to Prague to study under Talich – no conductor has done more than Mackerras to bring Czech music to the wider world.

Dvořák’s 6th Symphony was recorded live in the spacious acoustic of the Rudolfinum, whereas The Golden Spinning Wheel is a studio recording made in the same location. Warmth of string sound, especially the very present bass line, is the defining characteristic of both performances. There have been a couple of fine, live performances of the symphony, Kubelik and the Bavarian Radio SO (Orfeo), and Bělohlávek with the BBCSO (BBC Music Magazine). Bělohlávek and Mackerras both take around thirteen minutes over the first movement, yet their approach is quite different: Bělohlávek lithe and forward-moving, Mackerras adopting an altogether wider range of speeds; he feels far more expansive – indeed the transition into the development is almost becalmed.

Outstanding is the slow movement where the Czech Philharmonic’s long familiarity with the music pays particular dividends in the dovetailing of inner string parts. Like Talich, who recorded Dvořák 6 in 1938, Mackerras adopts a convincing expansive approach. The scherzo, a Furiant, lollops along deliciously and, although it may lack something in precision, the tricky cross-rhythms are innately handled and the playing is tangy: rather this than metronomic perfection. The one movement where the playing does seem to lack focus is the finale where there’s a degree of raggedness.

The Golden Spinning Wheel is a gem of a performance, well recorded, and altogether more tidily played, and almost worth the price of the disc alone. This is music that remains shamefully neglected, one of four symphonic poems that Dvořák based on Erben’s rather grisly tales.

My initial misgiving about the Symphony’s expansiveness and the performance’s imprecision has not lasted, and in fact wears well on repeated listening, not least because it vividly communicates sheer joy – in both pieces here – and that’s something worth celebrating.

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