A quick guide to the most outstanding recordings of Dvořák's final, and most popular, symphony
Symphony No 9 with Martinů Symphony No 2
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra / Paavo Järvi
Having the most popular of Dvorák’s symphonies coupled with one of the most approachable by a 20th-century Czech composer is a neat and original idea, particularly apt as both works were written in the United States. Paavo Järvi reveals his keen imagination and sharp concentration in both performances and under his guidance the Cincinnati SO is consistently excellent: ensemble more than matches that of the rival versions, including Järvi’s father Neeme in both works.
The quality of the playing is highlighted by the refinement and clarity of the brilliant Telarc recording, with cleaner separation than in any version listed. In the Martinu the Cincinnati performance easily outshines that of the Bamberg SO, which is not helped by a relatively distant recording, while the comparison with Bryden Thomson’s strong and positive reading shows how well Paavo Järvi brings out the Czech flavours in the writing: the first movement is open and fresh, with rhythms that echo Dvorák’s Slavonic Dances.
In the New World Symphony, too, Paavo Järvi is a degree warmer than his father, a shade readier to allow flexibility in tempo and phrasing but never sounding self-conscious or unspontaneous. Speeds are similar between father and son, with István Kertész’s classic LSO reading a little plainer at speeds a fraction faster and with rhythms less lilting in the Scherzo. Though there are many highly recommendable versions of this much-recorded work, this one is a strong candidate in every way; and, quite apart from the outstanding recording quality, has its unique coupling to commend it.