Performed and recorded by musicians who have an innate understanding and deep-rooted love for this music of their homeland, this is a first-rate recording, bringing great passion and lyricism to Dvorak's spellbinding Slavonic Dances. There is no more authentic ensemble today to play these works: the leading Czech orchestra with the leading Czech conductor, recording in the fine acoustic of the famous Rudolfinum in Prague.
The lilting affection for this glorious music is unsurprising from these Czech artists -- it's in their blood. The disc is a pendant to the same musicians' great set of Dvorak's symphonies and concertos . . .
There's a rich depth to these gloriously played Slavonic Dances, on which Belohlavek floats the melodies with a wonderful sense of natural rhythm.
Belohlavek is especially effective in the Brahmsian contours of the second and eighth of the Op 72 dances, both involving the very Brahmsian marking grazioso . . . the whole performance phrased with intelligence and affection. Most important (especially here) is the way Belohlavek and his players convey the emotional heart of the music, its natural ebb and flow. The faster dances work too, most notably Op 72 No 3, where Belohlavek negotiates meaningfully shifting tempi with genuine skill . . . As to Op 46, Belohlavek offers weighty, purposeful accounts of the faster dances and brings a discernible pastoral element to the slower ones . . . he marks the transitions with the hand of a true master . . . this is an exceptional set of the Slavonic Dances.
. . . gloriously played . . . Belohlávek floats the melodies with a wonderful sense of natural rhythm.
The faster dances are really successful. Op. 46 No. 1 gets the set off to a jingling, energetic start, and the first dance in the second set works every bit as well, as does the "Furiant" that ends the first set. Op. 72 No. 7 has the feel of a New Year's Day polka to it, and there is something very characterful in the lopsided way that Op. 72 No. 3 lollops along. I also enjoyed the slower dances. Op. 46 No. 4 has a beautiful lilt to it, while Op. 72 No. 2 has a silken, almost feline quality . . . There is a winning playfulness to Op. 46 No. 5, and Op. 72 No. 6 has a dainty, almost neoclassical feel. The playing is universally good, with rumbustious, Bohemian strings, bold brass and shiny percussion that bring their line to life. Belohlávek, too, is totally at one with the music, and conducts with a persuasive lilt throughout, whether swinging daintily or provoking fireworks. There is a sense of playfulness to many of the central sections . . . The trio of Op. 72 No. 3, in particular, develops a real feel of "Donner und Blitzen".
. . . a miracle of subtlety and grace, with some of the most pungent colors ever available on a recording . . . [the] second set lacks the popularity of the first, and what often works well for "46" falls flat in "72". Not here. Belohlavek is stunning in his ability to convey the intricacies and sheer joy present in "72", wallowing in the orchestral beauties and forging and important link between the two sets without forcing a one-size-fits-all schema upon them. I can honestly say that this is the most convincing "Opus 72" I have ever heard . . . This is not a SACD. But aside from the surround sound, you will be hard pressed to discover the difference, so broad, deep, and wide-ranging the capture of the orchestra. It is a beautiful thing to behold, and the Decca engineers who set it all down in Dvorak Hall in Prague have a lot to be proud of. This is an essential recording.
. . . beautiful . . . [Belohlavek's] performance features normal tempos, velvet textures, and plenty of energy . . . these are extremely luxurious sounding versions of the "Slavonic Dances", lovingly played and timbrally authentic . . . it's the soft strings and beautiful colors which ravish and make such an impact here. Only a great orchestra is capable of playing like this.
. . . [the new set offers] a big, bold sound in the resonant acoustic. And Belohlavek gives especially fiery accounts of the later popular "encore" pieces.
. . . one of the world's great orchestras . . . This is an orchestra that has managed to retain its distinctive sound . . . One marvels at the dark woodiness of the strings' sound and the touch of vibrato in the clarinets and horns . . . For me the highlights of this new recording come in the Op. 72 set . . . [in No. 2 with] very convincing rubato and masterly management of the tricky tempo transitions . . . in No. 4 the dark and weighty sound of the horns is truly memorable . . . This new recording is an altogether worthy documentation of the glory of the Czech Philharmonic and a tribute to the integrity and musicianship of one of the finest exponents of Czech composers past and present.