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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett



Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)

The Spectre's Bride, B135/Op. 69 (1884).
Eva Urbanová (soprano) The Giral; Ludovít Ludha (tenor) The Spectre; Ivan Kusnjer (bass-baritone) The Narrator;

Prague Philharmonic Choir; Prague Symphony Orchestra/Jiři Běhlolávek [DDD]
Live performance from the Dvořák Hall of the Rudolfinum, Prague, on November 29th, 1995.

Text and translation included.
SUPRAPHON SU3091-2 [78'26]



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Here is a rare opportunity to hear one of Dvořák's lesser known treasures. Written between May and November 1884, the composer held the work in some esteem. Its premiere on August 27th, 1885 in Birmingham, England, was a success. Although it is not uniformly inspired, a committed performance such as the one under consideration can certainly prove the piece to be moving; the fact that this is a live account certainly helps this to be a truly involving listening experience.

The story certainly has a macabre aspect. It centres on a girl whose dead lover takes her towards death, salvation only coming in the shape of the girl's prayers to the Virgin Mary.

There are three solo protagonists: the girl (soprano); the Lover/Spectre (tenor); and a Narrator (bass-baritone), who introduces and comments on the action in conjunction with the chorus.

On this performance the dramatic impetus is maintained by some excellent solo work and careful, considered pacing from the conductor. At around 1 hour 20 minutes' duration, the piece is not too long for its material, and the attention barely wavers throughout.

The Prague Symphony Orchestra are, of course, on home ground here. The orchestral introduction reminds the listener of the orchestra's principal strengths. Silky strings, authentically Czech woodwind (listen to the oboes!) are all there as the dark undercurrents to the ominous harmonies are realised.

The chorus throughout realises its commentaries well, but it is, in the final analysis, the soloists that make the piece.

Eva Urbanová is probably the best known of the soloists. Her first entry indicates a lightish voice, but one fully up to the dramatic declamation required. She is heartfelt in her plea for the return of her beloved (QUOTE 1), as she is also in the closing moments of the piece (No. 17, 'Maria Panno'). She, rightly, very much sounds like a young woman.

Ludovít Ludha is an ardent and convincing lover. His gentle entreaties to his beloved to trust him are persuasive; Urbanová's answer is most tender (QUOTE 2). Ivan Kusnjer as the Narrator carries the requisite authority for the role: try his description of the Spectre's leading the way in the journey (QUOTE 3).

A very worthwhile release. A pity that an enthusiastic cry from the audience of 'bravo' could not be edited out, as it detracts from the atmosphere created by the beauty of the closing pages.


Colin Clarke



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