. . . exceptionally high quality of the performances . . . [a] strong feeling this conductor and orchestra have for Dvorák's music . . . few other orchestras communicate the rhythms and colors of the music as vibrantly and with as much excitement . . . Decca's high-definition sound delivers clean details and close-up presence, so even though these recordings are live, they sound as fine as a studio recording. Highly recommended.
For those who have not yet acquired Alisa Weilerstein's raptly passionate account of the Cello Concerto, here it is again as part of a set of the complete mature symphonies and concertos, which are no less desirable . . . the early symphonies sound as if they are ingrained into the Czech musicians' DNA, as much as the supreme last three masterpieces . . . The playing throughout has a transparency, with wonderfully woody woodwinds, and Belohlavek's affectionate accounts of the "pastoral" Fifth (F major) and the vigorous Sixth (D major) are highlights. So, too, is Frank Peter Zimmermann's unapologetic traversal of the Violin Concerto, while Garrick Ohlsson, in the neglected Piano Concerto, is little short of revelatory. Dvorák's stream of melody is irresistible, and it's hard to imagine more idiomatic performances.
These are good times for Dvorák symphonies . . . This new [recording] comes with good credentials; the Czech Philharmonic can still make a distinctive sound, and Jirí Belohlávek has this music in his bones. The orchestral playing is high-class . . . Winds are piercingly clear but never shrill, and there's still a welcome touch of vibrato in the brass. The Cello Concerto's first movement horn solo. . . is exquisite. Belohlávek's strings play with weight, security and agility . . . The three concertos almost justify buying the set; Alisa Weilerstein's Cello Concerto is more than decent, but the real find is Frank Peter Zimmermann's glowing reading of the inexplicably neglected Violin Concerto . . . Garrick Ohlsson makes the strongest case for the even rarer Piano Concerto, making it sound like laid-back Brahms. . . [Symphony no. 7]: I like Belohlávek's doubling of the string line in the finale's coda with brazen trumpets. Working through the other symphonies chronologically is fascinating. No 1 . . . is both accomplished and entertaining, while No 2 has a sublime extended slow movement . . . Belohlávek's 5 is a pastoral delight, and No 6's swinging first movement is delectable. Decca's sound is good, and the whole slimline package is offered at bargain price.
. . . [all soloists] are first class . . . 8,5 hours of very well recorded and performed music . . .
. . . a wealth of illuminating detail and an empathetic approach to Dvorák's symphonic oevre overall, the crowning virtue of this set is in the way it relates the composer's artistic growth. Jiri Belohalávek focuses the precise character of each piece, so that the aura of youthfulness he brings to the First Symphony . . . contrasts markedly with the breadth, mellowness and epic proportions of his "New World" . . . [the Second Symphony] runs the gamut -- even within its first minute -- from darkness to light, and Belohlávek allows its rich fund of ideas to flow freely. . . Belohlávek and his Czech players make the strongest possible case for the Fourth Symphony's highly atmospheric opening pages . . . the symphony's highlight, also the high point on this particular reading, is the breezily cantering Scherzo with its riotously festive Trio . . . [Symphony no. 7]: there are magical moments, one in particular near the start of the slow movement . . . where Belohlávek draws from his orchestra great depth of tone, releasing high woodwinds like a flock of doves . . . as with the Sixth, the finale really blazes . . . [Alisa Weilerstein]: risk-taking flair in the Cello Concerto . . . Belohlávek's predominantly symphonic view of the score provides a powerful but disciplined framework for her spontaneous, tonally full-bodied playing. The Piano Concerto is performed with the greatest sensitivity . . . [in the first movement] Garrick Ohlsson achieves a magical diminuendo and the orchestra respond with gently etched string chords . . . [Ohlsson and Belohlávek] approach the solo part as a first among equals . . . Frank Peter Zimmermann offers a spruce, dancing account of the Violin Concerto, with spot-on intonation and a Milstein-like suaveness of tone. Belohlávek's accompaniment is typically flexible . . . The sound on this new set is by and large first-rate.
. . . all of these performances easily could become your favorites . . . [Dvorák 1]: Jirí Belohlávek uses swift tempos and dynamic contrast to personalize this early work in a way that is wholly convincing. It was smart to coupling this somewhat unknown work with the [Cello Concerto] . . . repeated hearings confirm my positive thoughts . . . it really is a very beautiful performance. And the whole set is beautiful performance after beautiful performance. The live acoustics cast an absolutely lovely sheen around the winds, but the whole orchestra distinguishes itself and proudly upholds a world-famous performance tradition in this music . . . the Violin Concerto receives a fine performance . . . [Piano Concerto]: Belohlávek is as committed to the piece as any conductor alive. The Symphony that precedes it simply sparkles with balletic grace. Moving forward with agility and purpose . . . [Symphonies nos. 4 & 5]: The wind playing is simply astonishing; even on headphones, the Czech Philharmonic effortlessly marries polish with a firmly projected sense of drama. The brass playing is luminous and the orchestral voices are expertly handled . . . [the finale of Symphony no. 4] is thrilling and crackles with excitement . . . [Dvorák 6]: The beauty of sound is remarkable . . . The live acoustics are superb . . . [Dvorák 8]: This particular take is amazing . . . those winds! Simply stunning. For his part, Belohlávek conducts with equal parts vigor and grace . . . the finale is nothing short of excellent . . . the famous "New World" proves wholly successful . . . an impressive range of moods and colors. Nothing feels routine, and small details emerge anew without ever feeling forced. The famous "Largo" is ethereally lovely, not too slow, but gentle and tender. Belohlávek really leans on his first-desk soloists, and why not? The final two movements cap this largely excellent project; superbly played, with great attention to detail . . . these six jam-packed disc merit your serious consideration.
It is exciting to have the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra performing such a large proportion of Dvorák's orchestral music . . . with Jirí Belohlávek at the helm of his country's principal orchestra the Czech element is tangibly present in every performance. The inclusion of Dvorák's three great Concertos in this mainly symphonic group is a real bonus . . . [the Piano Concerto] deserves to be performed by a notable artist and here Garrick Ohlsson is a welcome inclusion . . . [1st movement]: Ohlsson convincingly interprets the relaxation gently and sensitively. By contrast the arrival of the Schumann-like theme three-quarters through is given with delightful rhythmic pointing . . . [Dvorák 1]: The work is full of folk influences and suits Belohlávek very well . . . [Dvorák 2]: this performance dances . . . [Dvorák 3]: The finale merits comparison with the confident episodes in the later symphonies, especially in this powerful performance, strong themes pressing eagerly forward, the Czech Philharmonic playing with power and precision . . . [Dvorák 4]: The folk-dance beginning of the finale is a surprise but proves to be a decent basis for a varied and rhythmically intriguing movement, superbly executed here . . . [Dvorák 5]: Belohlávek takes a broad view of the splendid first movement . . . The sad, beautiful "Andante con moto" benefits from the allegretto-like nature of Belohlávek's tempo and one of Dvorák's finest scherzos is given with much buoyancy of rhythm . . . [Dvorák 6]: this is a very fine performance . . . The subtlety of the slow movement's ending is worth noting, the "Furiant" that follows is invigorating and the various elements of the finale are drawn firmly together. Symphony no. 7 is a challenge: in this work, some great names have failed and others have triumphed. Here Belohlávek's best "Czech" qualities are evident and the surge that he brings to the outer movements is joyful . . . I particularly like the breath of the ultimate coda. Needless to say the swagger of the rhythms in the scherzo is a true display of Czech authenticity . . . [Dvorák 9]: [there is] much to treasure including the fine cor anglais solo in the "Largo". The instrument used has a particularly beautiful tone and is balanced in an ideal way, emerging from the orchestra rather than being spot-lit. The "scherzo" is suitably fiery and the finale is expressively dramatic. The playing is especially fine from an orchestra which must be exceptionally familiar with this work . . . satisfying woodwind detail and skilled execution. The warmly spacious sound is generally consistent throughout . . . this very comprehensive collection represents a notable achievement.
Eine durchaus begeisternde Gesamteinspielung . . . schön und begeisternd . . . Unnachahmlich das slawische, genauer: böhmische Glitzern in den Streichern. Unerreicht die schimmernden, tränenfeucht prickelnden Obertöne, die Feinheit der Bläser und eine Orchesterkonsonanz, die man gleichfalls nur hier so findet . . . Eine besser klingende tschechische Aufnahme dieser Werke gibt es nicht . . . Bei den Konzerten hat man mit der aufstrebenden Alisa Weilerstein, dem amerikanischen Altmeister Garrick Ohlsson und mit Frank-Peter Zimmermann (bei seiner zweiten Aufnahme des Violinkonzerts) eine durchweg originelle Wahl getroffen . . . eine echte Alternative.
Nun liegen die neuen Symphonien und die drei großen Konzerte . . . in schönen, klanglich wie formal runden Neueinspielungen vor . . . Belohlávek und seine Musikanten sind natürlich kundige Führer auf dem Weg, die ihren böhmischen Klang (vor allem im Blech) sanft westlichen Gepflogenheiten angepasst, aber ihre weiche Phrasierungskunst nicht verlernt haben.