Dvořák: Symphonies – No 8 in G major, Op 88; No 9 in E minor, Op 95 (From the New World)

Reviewed on Fri 07 Oct, 2016

Disciplined playing and purposeful conviction impose themselves across the Eighth Symphony's outer movements, yet the results lack nothing in spontaneity. Witness, for example, the slow sensitivity afforded the transition to the opening movement’s second subject, and you can only delight in the way Stupka builds impact towards the symphony’s conclusion.

“František who?”, you may be thinking. Stupka (1879-1965) is the all-but-forgotten man that the Czech Philharmonic called when Václav Talich was unavailable. He was no mere time-beater: a busy career secured an international reputation, yet Stupka’s available discography barely fills four CDs. These recordings capture live performances of two Dvořák symphonies: the Eighth is from 1959 in an acceptable acoustic; alas, recessed and cloudy sound mars the 1964 Ninth. Interpretively, too, the Eighth is the main draw, since Stupka’s broad tempo choices are more individual than both Talich (Supraphon) and Kertész (Decca). Disciplined playing and purposeful conviction impose themselves across the outer movements, yet the results lack nothing in spontaneity. Witness, for example, the slow sensitivity afforded the transition to the opening movement’s second subject, and you can only delight in the way he builds impact towards the symphony’s conclusion. There’s more mystery than usual in the Adagio, where the woodwind playing is a thing of marvel. Only the third movement is rivalled by other versions. The New World has its drama built more episodically than cohesively, although the famous Largo and scherzo hold the attention convincingly. Informative liner-notes on both the symphonies and Stupka are included. Curious collectors are recommended to explore Stupka conducting Novák’s In the Tatras and Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique (Supraphon) – fine stuff indeed.
–Evan Dickerson