John Axelrod

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30 Jan 2008
Fine release from the Wuerttemberg Philharmonic Reutlingen, and John Axelrod

Wuerttemberg Philharmonic Reutlingen - Dvorak Symphony 9 (Genuin) UK release date: January 2008 4 stars

Here is a fine release from the Wuerttemberg Philharmonic Reutlingen, coupling two works by Dvorák, the Ninth Symphony and the orchestral Czech Suite.

The latter work, composed in 1879 and premiered later that year, is a set of five dances, each one individually characterised and imbued with the resonating rhythms of Czech musical heritage. The orchestra here is authoritatively conducted by John Axelrod, who presents a vividly detailed orchestral palate and a wide-ranging emotional canvas.

The drones and repeated reclining string lines of the Preludium here drip with warm, languorous humidity; an instantly darker and marginally more grainy orchestral timbre is presented in the Polka, the strings firmly and precisely placed, the rhythms pulsating and contracting ebulliently. The Minuetto's lilting triple time rhythms are as hypnotic as they are beautiful, but Axelrod is careful to tauten the articulation and vary the textural shades, avoiding any intrusion of monotony: take the disarming final cadential figure, and notice how it flows smoothly and seductively while retaining enough bite to arrest the ear. Similarly, the Romanze's dreamy wind accompaniment is precise and firm, though it can sometimes swallow the movement's intimate dialogue between English horn and flute, vital to bring out. The Finale grows organically, spurting gaily with high-spirited melodic peals.

The reading of the Ninth Symphony is no less convincing. Famously subtitled From the New World, the work was the first by Dvorák to be written entirely in America, but it avoids any sense of celebration, instead conveying a sense of homesickness and unfulfilled longing for the composer's Czech homeland. Axelrod's reading here continually reminds one of the work's dramatic elements, in particular his ability to immediately shift gears between plaintive lyricism and turbulent animosity.

The range of expression throughout is splendid, the textures hymn-like here, craggy there, and the orchestral playing is rich and eager, luxuriously recorded, illuminating every instance of intricate scoring; the strings' muscular approach to much of the symphony combats the music's potential accumulated feeling of long-windedness, the performance seeming completely spontaneous, completely true.

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