Sir Colin Davis, London Symphony Orchestra, Bedrich Smetana, Dvorák: Symphony No. 8

Gavin Borchert

By Gavin Borchert

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Dvorák: Symphony No. 8

Sir Colin Davis, London Symphony Orchestra, Bedrich Smetana
A charming symphony from a period when those were rare.

Over the course of the 19th century the symphony grew to be the most important instrumental form, the genre a composer turned to when he wanted to make a Big Statement — with the result that the symphonic repertory consisted almost entirely of Big Statements, several masterpieces alongside a much larger number of pretentious, ponderous, pompous works by lesser composers. The notion that a symphony could charm, entertain and be witty, as Haydn's and Mozart's had in the previous century, fell out of favor. Dvorak's Symphony No. 8 is one of a few 19th-century pieces that buck this trend: a tuneful, sunny work nearest in spirit to his colorful Slavonic Dances. Sir Colin Davis brings a delicious sense of ease and lightness to the work's mood swings, from the serene, pastoral opening (followed by leaping, exuberant fanfares) to the joyously driving coda (preceded by a long sunset passage melting into silence).