Thursday, October 02, 2003

[10/2/2011] Moving backward, we arrive at Dvořák's Symphony No. 7 (continued)


Bars 6-10 of the Poco adagio of Dvořák's Seventh Symphony -- bar 5 begins at about 0:26 of Ex. 1.

Let's first relisten to those opening eight bars (Ex. 1) and then listen to the following minute and a half (Ex. 2; I let the clip run this long and then cut it off at this odd moment in order to include that wonderful improvisational-sounding little horn accompaniment riff that slips in at about 1:24, played here by the principal of the orchestral world's greatest horn section):
Ex. 1
Ex. 2
Vienna Philharmonic, Rafael Kubelik, cond. Decca, recorded October 1956

The music, in case I forgot to mention it, is the opening of the second movement, Poco adagio, of Dvořák's Seventh Symphony. (I hope it suggests the symphonic slow movements yet to come from the composer's pen: the Adagio of the Eighth Symphony and the Largo of the Ninth, the New World.) The poised, radiant beauty of this music is all the striking in that it follows a rather turbulent movement in D minor -- in the entirely predictable relative-major key of F, but I don't think "predictable" is at all a word that comes to mind for this music. And while a great deal happens between, here and there I can't resist -- with this music playing in our ears -- jumping (Ex. 3) to the last two minutes of the movement:
Ex. 3
Vienna Philharmonic, Rafael Kubelik, cond. Decca, recorded October 1956

Are we reading to start our traversal of the symphony?

DVOŘÁK: Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Op. 70

i. Allegro maestoso

Unlike the first movement of Dvorak's Eighth Symphony, which you'll recall begins in a mode that suggests brooding introspection to come but quickly gives way to bucolic wonderment, in the first movement of the Seventh the aura of darkness predominates, eventually building that brooding opening motif into a thundering climax (Ex. 4) before settling down for a brightly lyrical countertheme (Ex. 5):
Ex. 4
Ex. 5
Vienna Philharmonic, Rafael Kubelik, cond. Decca, recorded October 1956

George Szell's Epic recordings of the last three Dvorak symphonies (handily gathered by Sony in a two-CD set filled out with the Carnival Overture and Smetana's Bartered Bride Overture and Szell's orchestration of his From My Life String Quartet) have now held up to more than 50 years' worth of scrutiny and heavy use, and I can hardly imagine a more stimulating juxtaposition than his energetic, intense performance of the first movement of the Seventh with the performance in Carlo Maria Giulini's daringly introspective 1993 Concertgebouw Seventh.

Allegro maestoso
Cleveland Orchestra, George Szell, cond. Epic/CBS/Sony, recorded March 18-19, 1960
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Carlo Maria Giulini, cond. Sony, recorded Feb. 10-12, 1993

ii. Poco adagio

I don't think we need to say much more about this gorgeous movement, except perhaps to consider the lattitude available to the conductor in interpreting that tempo marking Poco adagio, "a little" adagio. You'll notice that Václav Neumann places a lot of stress on that "poco" qualifier, though in the context of his Czech ensemble's irresistible, seemingly inborn impulse to songfulness, while the predictably more dramatically inclined Leonard Bernstein is in more nearly full adagio mode.

Those were originally going to be our only two performances of this movement, but I was strongly tempted to include Carlo Maria Giulini's Concertgebouw performance, a logical continuation from the broadly ruminative first movement we just heard. I had the idea of slipping the Giulini performance in at the end as a "bonus," thereby sticking to the rules I had adopted of only two performances per movement and only one movement from any recording. Finally I decided the rules were counterproductive in this case, especially given the extra bit of attention we've given this movement. So we have three recordings of the Poco adagio.

Poco adagio
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Václav Neumann, cond. Supraphon/Denon, recorded October 1981
New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein, cond. Columbia/CBS/Sony, recorded Jan. 28, 1963
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Carlo Maria Giulini, cond. Sony, recorded Feb. 10-12, 1993

iii. Scherzo: Vivace; Poco meno mosso

Note that we're back in the minor mode for the Scherzo, launched (Ex. 6) in a mood that might range from merely tense or apprehensive to downright ominous, depending on the conductor's inclination and the listener's perception. Of course for the central Trio section (Poco meno mosso), Dvořák has something very different up his sleeve (Ex. 7).
Ex. 6
Ex. 7
Vienna Philharmonic, Rafael Kubelik, cond. Decca, recorded October 1956

There's not much difference in pacing between our two performances of the Scherzo, but notice the heaver accenting in Dohnányi's.

Scherzo: Vivace; Poco meno mosso
Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, Zdeněk Košler, cond. Opus, recorded c1999
Cleveland Orchestra, Christoph von Dohnányi, cond. Decca, recorded October 1985

iv. Finale: Allegro

Not quite as dramatic perhaps as the finales of the last two Dvořák symphonies, but an altogether appropriate and satisfactory climax for this one. I don't think it's necessary to say much more, so let's just take a quick listen to the contrasting material introduced early on in the movement:
Ex. 8 Ex. 9
Vienna Philharmonic, Rafael Kubelik, cond. Decca, recorded October 1956

After hearing all these lovely scraps from Rafael Kubelik's 1956 Decca recording, now finally we get to hear him do an entire movement, but from his later DG version, which I think shows some distinct differences in temperament, not to mention the noticeable difference in personality between the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics. We get a somewhat different temperament still with the Latvian-born Mariss Jansons and the Norwegian orchestra he served as music director from 1979 to 2000.

Finale: Allegro
Berlin Philharmonic, Rafael Kubelik, cond. DG, recorded January 1971
Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, Mariss Jansons, cond. EMI, recorded January 1992


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