ANTONIN DVORAK - Symphony No. 6 - Jac van Steen

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Although this fine North German orchestra has been in existence since 1887, this could be considered their very first real exposure to the world as a symphony orchestra on a commercial recording. Their previous outings were part of three opera recordings on different labels and under different conductors, but this could be considered their first venture with a new conductor, in a new concert hall and on a new label. The Dortmund Philharmonic Orchestra has long held a strong reputation as a concert orchestra under the conducting guidance of such names as Marek Janowski. Their present conductor, Jac van Steen, was appointed music director as recently as 2007. One of his many previous posts in his native Netherlands was as conductor and music director of a Bach Choir, which might explain the precision and clarity found on this present recording.

The choice of works on this CD could not fit the sound of this orchestra any better. These considerable pieces by Antonin Dvorak all bear a fresh, sunny and positive approach to life and music. Take for example the famous Scherzo, that Bohemian furiant movement from the Symphony No. 6. This orchestra plays it with a cheerful energy and articulate well-defined sound. After all things were looking up for Dvorak around that time. He was starting to make a name for himself in Vienna. Later in life his composing became more programmatic and many of his descriptive symphonic poems were written. The three concert Overtures on this recording are part of that new sound. National consciousness was starting to permeate the arts, and people expected Dvorak to become a leader of the new music of Bohemia. The individuality of the composer is immediately noticeable in the opening bars of In Nature's Realm, where the content takes a step back from 'absolute' music, to a music infused with more human emotions within life and nature. In fact, these concert Overtures form a triptych that depicts different angles of the human journey. Be it joy, exuberance, sadness, tragedy, tension or merriment that is portrayed in the music, every member of this orchestra is in sync with Jac van Steen's pinpoint direction, and the internal drama comes out bright and clear.

This Musikproduktion Dabringhaus und Grimm recording done in August 2009 is also a perfect match for this music. It is bright and spacious, and captures every subtle nuance accurately. The liner notes well explain the historical context behind the music, and the back of the booklet displays a photograph of a panoramic view of the full orchestra in their new concert hall.

Jean-Yves Duperron