A number of composers famously found a new voice Stateside, notably Stravinsky. But America was merely an interlude for Dvorak – he spent just three years there. What is noticeable about the ‘New World’ Symphony is how he remained true to his compositional roots from all those miles away. Although much was made of their indigenous qualities at the time, there is nothing essentially American about the themes which appear in the symphony. Their folk music credentials are universal, and Dvorak went on to distance himself from the idea that there was something uniquely ‘American’ about them. “Leave out the nonsense about my having made use of American melodies,” he said. “I have only composed in the spirit of such American national melodies.”
Dvorak’s ‘New World’ is singular for the emotional directness of its themes. The cor anglais solo in the second movement has to be one of the most celebrated tunes in nineteenth century symphonic music. Christine Pendrill takes the honours for her superb playing in this performance by the LSO. The brass section’s rendition of the rousing finale with its famous modal theme is also compelling.
This recording is something of a collector’s item now, at least in the history of LSO Live, since it was the debut disc for the label back in 1999. Sir Colin Davis conducts with terrific drive and a keen sense of the work’s lyrical drama. His control of light and shade are what gives this performance its vitality. If the branding of the CD case is a little retro, the interpretation definitely looks forward. It was to be followed by many more releases by the LSO under the direction of Sir Colin, whose glorious ‘Indian summer’ carried on for a further fifteen years.
James Mallinson, LSO Live Producer
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