DVORAK:  Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88.  Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 "From the New World"
Budapest Festival Orch/Iván Fischer, cond.
PHILIPS SACD 470 617 TT:  78:00  (5 channel)
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HERSCHEL:  Symphonies Nos. 2 in D, No. 8 in C Minor, No. 12 in D, No. 13 in D, No. 14 in D and No. 17 in C
London Mozart Players/Matthias Bamert, cond.
CHANDOS CHSA 5005 TT:  68:23 (5 channel)
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In their Contemporaries of Mozart series Chandos offers this well-filled CD of six symphonies by Friedrich Wilhelm Herschel (1738-1822).  Born in Hannover, Germany, into a musical family, Herschel was a conductor, organist and composer whose career in music was  diminished by his keen interest in astronomy.  He became a full-time astronomer and in 1781 discovered the seventh planet, which he named "Georgium Sidus" in honor of King George III (the planet later was renamed "Uranus."  Most of Hershel's music was written from 1959-1770, including 24 symphonies, about a dozen concertos for various instruments, works for harpsichord and organ and some anthems.  All of his symphonies were written between June 1760 and June 1764, about two years before Mozart wrote his first.  Hershel's granddaughter wrote in 1933, "The symphonies...are graceful and melodious, but do not indicate much originality...(they) have given much pleasure when performed at family gatherings."  One of the symphonies is for strings alone, the others for strings with winds and horns, sometimes in pairs.  There indeed is nothing special about these rather prosaic works, in spite of the committed performances from Bamert and his fine ensemble.  The sound of this small performing group has been very well recorded, up front with ambient sound from the back.  This repertory is a another rather odd choice for release in surround sound.

Iván Fischer and his superb Budapest Festival Orchestra are in fine form for the two familiar Dvorak symphonies.  Don't underate this orchestra - it is comprised of first-class players who already have to their credit a number of fine recordings.   Both symphonies are elegantly played with a natural flow and plenty of fire where appropriate.   The first movement repeat of New World is played, and the familiar Largo from this work sounds glorious in this rich surround sound environment.  The orchestra is close-up, right in front, with ample ambience from the rear.  Near-maximum playing time makes this SACD even more attractive.

R.E.B. (May 2003)