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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
The Spectre’s Bride Op. 69 (1885)

Dramatic Cantata for soprano, tenor, baritone, chorus and orchestra
Oksana Krovytska (soprano)
John Aler (tenor)
Ivan Kusnjer (baritone)
Westminster Symphonic Choir
New Jersey Symphony Orchestra/ Zdeňek Mácal
Recorded in Prudential Hall, New Jersey, and Performing Arts Center, Newark, New Jersey, USA
on 1 and 2 October 2001.
DELOS DE 3296 [76.48]

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These days there are occasional limited forays into performances of the choral works of Dvořák, the Stabat Mater and Te Deum heading a list which then may go on to include the Mass in D and the Requiem. On the other hand St Ludmila and The Spectre’s Bride are rarely done, probably because the choice lies between singing either in the inaccessible Czech original setting or using unacceptably outdated Victorian English translations by the likes of Ebenezer Prout, Mrs Natalie Macfarren or the Reverend John Troutbeck, hardly names which inspire enthusiasm. A pity, for Dvořák had a particularly successful relationship with England, whose people took his music to their hearts at once in the 1880s, with the Birmingham Triennial Festival in the vanguard of those organisations willingly prepared to undertake the commissioning of his works (his English publisher Novello was another). The Spectre’s Bride was just such a work, and the prim Troutbeck got in quickly with his own version of the title, which should be The Bride’s Nightgown. It comes from A Garland of Folk Tales, traditional tales put into verse by Karel (sometimes rendered as ‘Karl’) Jaromir Erben and which proved a rich seam for inspiring Dvorak’s orchestral tone poems. He had a choir of five hundred at Birmingham on 27 August 1885 and gave a triumphant performance, and it soon caught on elsewhere, including America in November of the same year and Melbourne, Australia the following year. This tale of a girl carried off by her phantom lover is in three scenes, the maiden in her chamber and the appearance of the ghost, the wild excursion across a haunted countryside, and their arrival at a cemetery. Soprano and tenor are assigned the principal roles, while the baritone and chorus narrate the tale between them at various points.

There are highs and lows in this performance. The accolades go unquestionably to three of the protagonists, the authoritative conducting of Zdeňek Mácal, the way his excellent orchestra responds (wonderfully sublime clarinet playing on track 19 at 3’ 20”), and to the fine Westminster Choir, whose confident Czech diction and full, impeccable ensemble and confident sound (track 13, 3’ 53") provide immense pleasure. Regrettably the soloists leave more to be desired. Oksana Krovytska looks young and beautiful but the voice sounds quite the opposite in places with its worrying beat, wide vibrato and strained quality, though her final aria (all of track 18) redeems her performance. The men fare better but with another East European as a major protagonist (Ivan Kusnjer), one wonders why the token American (John Aler) had to be included. It’s misfit casting unfortunately, but, with such fine playing and choral singing, worth putting up with.

Christopher Fifield

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The clock has chimed

Alas! Where is my father gone?

The picture on the wall

Hey, my lass, here I come!

It was at night

And he leads the way

A fine night this is

He took her books from her

And he leads the way

A fine night this is

And so they flew

A fine night this is

There on a plain open and wide

Hey now, my lassie

At one go he leapt over the fence

And then, on the door

Holy Virgin, do stand by me

And lo, at this moment

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