I'm continuing my journey through the boxes of LPs which I looted from the apartment of the recently deceased Monsignor James Dorrill of the Archdiocese of Mobile. (See this post.) He had no known living relatives, or if he did they were distant and/or uninterested in taking possession of his things.
I really don't know much of Dvorak's work. In fact I can only say I know the New World Symphony, in the sense that I've heard it more than once or twice and am somewhat familiar with it I've heard others, but not really become familiar with them.
Serenade in E Major for Strings, Op. 22
In apparent contradiction to what I just said, I recognized it instantly, and thought I had a(nother) recording of it. But I don't. So I'm puzzled about my history with this work. The LP I was thinking of is a collection of short orchestral pieces, and the Dvorak work on it is the Nocturne for Strings in B, Opus 40; a very beautiful piece if I remember correctly. And so is this one. But where have I heard it before, and heard it enough to recognize it again? I am puzzled.
But anyway, this is a very beautiful work, full of memorable tunes, of which the opening of the first movement might be the most memorable--an instant grabber--and rather more substantial than the word "serenade" suggests to me. It's in five movements, runs for roughly thirty minutes, and is symphonic in general structure. If the composer had thought to ask me I would have suggested calling it a symphony for strings. Perhaps it's on the light side for a symphony, but don't be fooled by "serenade" into thinking that it's merely pretty.
The recording is by Rafael Kubelik and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra on the London label. It's monaural and I doubt it was issued any later than the mid-1950s. I can't say that the recording as such, either the performance or the sonics, strike me as exceptional, though the sound is very good for its time.
Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88
As far as I'm aware I'd never heard this symphony before. It is a great one, immediately becoming a favorite for me. My naive remark to myself was "like Brahms but sunnier." And I like Brahms a lot. And "sunnier" does not mean "better," because I like Brahms's somberness a lot. But there does seem to me to be some kind of kinship there.
And apparently it's also a great performance. When I took the LP off the shelf I saw that it was on the Everest label and groaned. If I had noticed that when I was giving away the LPs out of this haul that I didn't really want, it would have gone, too. Or maybe not, because it's Sir John Barbirolli and the Halle Orchestra. But Everest was, in my experience, back in the '60s a rather low-rent label that apparently specialized in licensing and producing foreign recordings for the American market. Generally the packaging was distinctly low-budget, and the sound not so great, though that could have been the fault of the original recordings.
After one hearing of this disk, I thought "well, Everest or not, it seems fine." After the third or fourth hearing I thought "Is it just me or is this a really excellent performance?" As I'm always pointing out, I don't have a great ear for the nuances of classical performance, especially conducting. But there seemed to be a special kind of verve and energy and crispness to this one. And the recorded sound is excellent as well, for its time (195??). So I went scouting for it on the net and learned that it is in fact a very famous recording, one that at least one critic holds to be still the best performance of the symphony. If you are a fan of Dvorak and/or this symphony, you might want to seek it out. Or maybe you already have it.
The LP also contains a Scherzo Capriccioso as the last track. I pretty much hate it when record companies add filler like that; I don't want to hear some different and unrelated work immediately after, for instance, Dvorak's 8th. Moreover, I admit to a distinct aversion to any music with a title containing the word "cappricio" or, in this case, "cappriccioso," which I take to mean "like a cappricio, but more so." I have no explanation for this...well, I guess that's not exactly true. I have a negative mental association which suggests that the music is going to be light, busy, and not really very interesting. This may be, probably is, totally unfair. Nevertheless I only allowed it to play once, and that was because I couldn't get to the turntable to lift the needle before it began. I may go back to it someday.
Addendum: I figured out why/how I know the Serenade. I have it in mp3 format: Jakob Hruska conducting the Prague Philharmonia.
(I still don't have internet access at home. I'm doing this from my wife's office.)