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Colin Clarke
Fanfare, July 2009

The Dvořák Piano Concerto is a tough nut to crack. Perhaps only Richter/Carlos Kleiber truly cracked it, in a recording that truly deserved to be on of EMI’s Great Recordings of the Century. Firkušný, too, has filed notable versions. If not quite in this exalted company, Igor Ardašev puts forward a strong case for the concerto.

Brno-born Ardašev, tall with big hands and long fingers, negotiates Dvořák’s tricky writing with aplomb. He is a very fluent pianist, whose technique is excellent and who is capable of great expression. Petr Altrichter manages his forces well, laudably avoiding any trace of bombast in the fortes. Both pianist and orchestra manage much delicacy, too. There are, in fairness, a few corners that are less than perfectly negotiated in terms of ensemble between soloist and orchestra, but everyone hangs in there and the excellence of Ardašev’s cadenza compensates. Here, intelligence meets sensitivity.

Altrichter, too, responds well to Dvořák’s demands. The orchestra clearly likes him. The horn solo at the opening of the central Andante sostenuto is lovely—played with a subtle vibrato. Although Ardašev begins well, sometimes his tone feels forced here. He does not quite live up to the expectations created by his first movement success, and the closing woodwind chord is unsubtly stated—and not entirely in tune, either. The finale generates a fair amount of steam but gives the impression that this is good, not great music; Richter/Kleiber do just the opposite.

The Eighth Symphony begins with eloquent lower strings in their long melody shadowed by slightly less eloquent horns. The recording is lacking in depth, something that is particularly obvious in this, the warmest of Dvořák’s symphonies. There is much joy to be gleaned from the woodwind contributions, however and Altrichter manages to whip up an almost fierce, stormy climax to the first movement and a fine sense of momentum towards its end. Orchestral balance in the louder sections of the Adagio seems skewed and awkward, as if rehearsal time had prohibited stopping and considering this element; surely not, given that they knew this was being filmed and recorded? Better is the carefree swing of the third movement. The more outrageous elements of Dvořák’s scoring in the finale—the horn trills, the brass ascents—are significantly underplayed, blunting their gestural effect. Although there is a clarinet solo towards the end that speaks properly of homeland-nostalgia, it comes as too little too late. It is a disappointing performance overall.

I remain unsure as to whether one actually needs to see either of these performances. Little seems to be gained, certainly, particularly in the case of the symphony. Rodney Greenberg’s direction is acceptable but basically similar to what one would expect from, say, a Proms BBC simulcast. I doubt whether I will be returning to these accounts often, if at all. If you want Dvořák on DVD, my recommendation of Neumann’s Stabat Mater, also on Arthaus, stands. Interestingly, Arthaus provides their own competition for themselves in the Stabat Mater, an issue that is in the same series as the present release (it is volume 5 of “The Dvořák Cycle”) and similarly deserves to be swerved.

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