Review of Dvorak New World Symphony & Slavonic Dances Otmar Suitner & Staatskapelle Berlin / Vaclav Neumann & Gewandhausorchester Leipzig

Patrick Latimer writes:

Collateralised Debt Obligations

Those that can remember further back than last week will remember CDOs the packaged debts that brought capitalism to its knees in the last decade. Well here is the musical equivalent. Packaged reissues of forgotten performances from the past all nicely presented in a smart card CD holder.

Now that’s what I call Classical Music

There is a deal of snobbery surrounding budget classical music and I am trying not to add to it. We all might like to have chuckle at titles such as “Classical Music for Relaxation” and such like but who knows how many unwary listeners have been lured on to the path of enlightenment and righteousness by these compilations with their naff covers featuring sunsets, beaches, blond ladies in summer dresses or better still all three.

Hundred greatest Classical moments

Sorry I seem to be stuck in default budget classical cd title mode. Anyway what I think I am trying to say here is there are good budget classical releases and there are bad budget classical releases. It gives me no great pleasure to report that this compact disc falls very much in the latter category.

The nexus of Naxos

The market leader in budget classical is Naxos. Its owner Klaus Heymann might share his name with the jovial bearded fellow in a red suit who distributes largesse every December but that where the resemblance ends. Mr. Heymann set out to bring the big labels like Deutsche Grammophon and the big stars like Herbert von Karajan with their jets and speedboats back down to earth. I have my reservations about the whole Naxos project and now that the big classical labels are struggling (DGG) or deceased (EMI, Philips) he seems to have got his way but at what price. Nevertheless Berlin Classics who are responsible for this offering are in danger of giving Naxos a good name.

A question of Provenance

In classical music as in fine art, antiques and vintage wine, provenance is everything. You know where you are with Naxos. Such and such Naxos cd might have been recorded in a bike shed by the Bratislava Schools Orchestra but at least they tell you so in bold letters. Berlin Classics on the other hand have spliced together a couple of old analogue recordings by different orchestras fifteen years apart and I am afraid the result is not pretty.

Back in the DDR

Anyone who read my last review or should I say if anyone read my last review they may recall me banging on about the iron curtain era well here I am again. The Deutsche Democratische Republik (DDR) was as my late father helpfully once explained to me the part of Germany which was not democratic. Both these analogue recordings emanate from this place also known as East Germany before Bono and the Hoff tore the Berlin wall down.

All else is gaslight

The definitive history of recording studios in Communist Europe probably has not been written yet but whether they used knock off technology from the West or just western equipment that was ten years out of date the end result was the same namely poor recordings.

Hovis

Let’s start with the good news. Dvorak’s Ninth gets off lightly here. I used as a comparison Karl Bohm with the Vienna Philharmonic. I happened to have a vinyl copy to hand.   It is probably not a definitive recording but it is the sort of thing that is getting repackaged on Deutsche Grammophon’s budget labels, Galleria or Privilege and represents the competition. What can I say, lusher strings, greater sense of development and tension, more dynamism better played solo parts, I could go on suffice to say Karl and the guys (the VPO is all male) win. Nevertheless Suitners’s account of Dvorak’s most famous symphony is still respectable.

Dance with the Devil

This leads me neatly to the Slavonic Dances. I like to read other reviewers and I especially enjoy when they put down a poor sound to deteriorating master tapes or 16 bit digital re-mastering. I am afraid I can only work with the ears that God gave me. For whatever reason this recording sounds diabolical. It was apparently recorded in 1965 but it sound like a (not very good) recording from 1955 apart from the fact it is in stereo. Yes there is stereo but the orchestra sounds like it is playing on a ledge not a stage. There is no sensation of depth. The horn section could be sitting on the cellists’ shoulders. Then there is the issue of the graininess and roughness of the recording.

Car Hi Fi in the comfort of your home

A number of home hi fi manufacturers have moved into car stereo in the last few years Naim, Dynaudio and Bose for example. They promise Home Hi Fi in your car. This compact disc is going the other way. It offers to put the sound of a cheap car radio into your home hi fi set up if that is what you want but I don’t think many people will if they are given the option.

Fax me a copy

It is probably not fair to pass comment on the Gewandhaus’s performance here. For all we know a shaft of light might have beamed down from the heavens and passed through a grimy window in a deconsecrated Lutheran church in a dowdy suburb of Leipzig in 1965 and the orchestra may have played the superlative rendition of the Slavonic Dances on that day. Sadly it is impossible to say from the quality of this recording what sort of performance was on offer that day. The recording brings to my mind that obsolescent piece of office machinery the fax machine in terms of quality of reproduction.

Blue note

This compact disc sells for about five pounds on Amazon. My advice would be to spend it elsewhere.