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alternatively Crotchet


Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
The Dvořák Cycle – Volume 2
Biblical Songs, Op. 99 (Nos. 1-5) (1894) [16:18]
Te Deum, Op. 103 (1892) [20:46]
Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 53 (1879-82) [34:38]
Eva Randová (mezzo); Ivan Kusnjer (baritone); Lívia Ághová (soprano); Ivan Zenaty (violin)
Prague Symphony Orchestra/Jiří Bělohlávek
rec. live, Alte Oper, Frankfurt, 1993
directed by Rodney Greenberg.


Experience Classicsonline

John Sheppard welcomed Volume 1 of this Dvořák series in February and I won’t repeat what he wrote about the filming of these performances since the venue and director are the same. I fully agree with him on the excellent camerawork throughout the DVD. As in the earlier issue, these works seem to be performed at more than one concert. No specific dates are given, but just the year: 1993.

The programme begins with the first five of Dvořák’s cycle of ten Biblical Songs, the ones the composer orchestrated himself. They are more often encountered with their original piano accompaniment, so it is good for a change to hear them in their orchestral guise. Eva Randová, a mezzo familiar to listeners from her operatic roles (the fox in Mackerras’s Decca recording of Janáček’s Cunning Little Vixen), sings these in the original Czech and with no little ardour and drama. I found them a little over-dramatic at times and preferred the more subdued parts where she tones down her vibrato. She seems to be better suited to opera than to these songs which benefit from a lighter touch. I am thinking here of Gabriela Beňačková’s recording of three of the songs with Rudolf Firkušný playing the piano part on RCA Red Seal. But this is mostly a personal preference, as Randová is certainly idiomatic and well accompanied by Bělohlávek and the orchestra. 

I have no reservations whatsoever about the second work on the DVD, the festive Te Deum that Dvořák composed for the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of America. The composer wrote this while he was director of New York’s National Music Conservatory. It is a splendid, colourful work that ought to be performed more often and better known. It is scored in four sections for soprano, baritone, chorus and orchestra and begins with pounding timpani and an orchestral and choral outburst that anticipates Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass. The timpani also remind me of the beginning of de Falla’s Three-Cornered Hat ballet. While the work utilizes the whole orchestra well, as is typical of this composer, the lower brass has an especially important role to play. The Te Deum also has memorable quiet moments, but the infectiousness of the typical Slavonic rhythms and the jubilant singing of the chorus carry the day. Both soloists, the splendid Prague Philharmonic Choir, and the Prague Symphony under Bělohlávek produce an exciting and beautiful account of the piece. 

The final work on the programme is the familiar Violin Concerto in a performance that is as good as any I’ve heard. It may not erase memories of Suk/Ančerl, but it comes close to that famous team. This is not due only to Ivan Zenaty, who plays with a sweet, warm tone, but also to Bělohlávek and the wonderful wind soloists of the Prague Symphony. They may not be the Czech Philharmonic, but they have that Eastern European sound: the tangy oboes and clarinets and the mellow horns. The duets in the second movement between solo violin and horn, with its tasteful use of vibrato, are especially lovely. Then the finale is a Slavonic dance that is light on its feet. While the performance overall is straightforward, it is by no means stiff. Conductor and soloist employ enough rubato to make it really interesting. A wonderful way to conclude the DVD. 

The accompanying booklet contains good notes on the works but reads like the translation that it is. And while it also has individual sections on each of the soloists and the conductor, there is nothing at all about the orchestra or the choir. This is a shame, because they deserve an equal amount of attention. Nonetheless, the DVD is recommended to anyone who loves Dvořák and visually it is also rather special.

Leslie Wright


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