DVORÁK: Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 "From the New
World." The Water Goblin, Op. 107.
A frustrating issue! No question that this is one of the most compelling New Worlds ever recorded. Harnoncourt's attention to detail is extraordinary. His control of dynamics is remarkable and the Concertgegouw plays superbly. The Orchestra made four earlier recordings of this symphony, first in 1941 for Telefunken with Willem Mengelberg, next in 1959 with Antal Dorati, in 1977 with Sir Colin Davis (the latter two for Philips), and in 1987 for Decca with Riccardo Chailly, one of his initial recordings after taking over leadership of the Concertgebouw in 1988 (London 421 016, nla). From a sonic standpoint the latter is one of the best London recordings made in the Concertgebouw. With the exception of the Mengelberg recorded more than sixty years ago, all other Concertgebouw recordings of Dvorak's last symphony sound far superior to the latestthis October 1999 live recording. Teldec's engineers obviously have used many microphones close up successfully eliminating audience sounds, resulting in an uncharacteristically dull Concertgebouw ambience Rich strings are gone, timpani have a dull "oil can" ring, resonance is lacking.
The companionthe sinister symphonic poem The Water Goblin, Op. 107is a total success in every way. This is one of the strongest of Dvorák's symphonic poems based on stories of Karel Jaromir Erben, with appropriate themes for the evil goblin, the innocent girl and her mother, telling the macabre story of the vengeful demon. Harnoncourt captures every bit of the score's ominous mystery fortunately produced in recording sessions. Here the engineers didn't have to worry about audience sounds. In this performance one hears the true sound of the mighty Concertgebouw Orchestra, with lustrous strings, vivid brass and impactful percussion. The CD is worth having just for this remarkable performance/recording. S.F.V. thought very highly of Harnoncourt's earlier live Concertgebouw recording of Dvorak's Symphony No. 8. From a performance standpoint I am as impressed with this New World as he was with the Eighth; however, to me the sound is a major point. Harnoncourt's live performance of New World is included in this season's Live! at the Concertgebouw broadcast series. I haven't heard it yet, but I'm quite sure the Radio Nederland engineers obtained a more natural, richer sound than did the Teldec engineering staff.
R.E.B. (Aug. 2002) NOTE: This Dvorák coupling has now been issued on DVD Audio in multi-channel sound, a vast improvement sonically - see REVIEW.)