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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Seven Zigeunermelodien Op. 55 (1880) [13.24]
Eight Liebeslieder Op. 83 (1888) [14.58]
Ten Biblische Lieder Op. 99 (1894) [24.49]
Peter Schreier (tenor), Marián Lapšanský (piano)
Recorded 1985 by VEB Deutsche Schallplatten, reissue 2003
BERLIN CLASSICS - ETERNA COLLECTION 0032492BC [53.28]

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Before the collapse of the East German communist government in 1989 a number of high quality LP recordings were issued on the VEB Deutsche Schallplatten label, the DDR’s state-run record company. The majority of these remained behind the Berlin Wall. (I recall visits to the GDR when I would queue to buy the latest releases from a Leipzig store). Berlin Classics is now reissuing some of this historical archive on silver discs, and this 1983 recital by the outstanding tenor Peter Schreier Zigeunermelodien fully justifies the project.

Dvořák, who composed in almost all musical genres, wrote about two hundred songs of which these three cycles are representative. The Brahmsian and Wagnerian influences found in Dvořák’s orchestral music are muted in the songs, which rely on his gift of melody and rhythmic subtlety. Schreier is in excellent voice throughout and the recording quality stands up well to the ever-present risks of CD transfer. However some careful work with the controls may be necessary to limit occasional stridency.

It is worth listening to the three cycles as a complete entity in order to compare the versatility and inventiveness inherent in each. Marián Lapšanský’s sensitive accompaniment adds to the charms of this set. In Czechoslovakia the gypsies came to symbolise social and cultural independence, and when an anthology of gypsy melodies by Adolf Heyduk was published in 1859 Dvořák chose the words of seven of them to set to music in the German language. The Zigeunermelodien are undoubtedly ‘art songs’ and no effort is made to highlight their folkloristic origins. No. 4, Als die alte Mutter mich noch lehrte singen, will be better known here in its English translation, Songs my mother taught me, and there are other gems to discover.

The Liebeslieder cycle owes nothing to the Brahms work with the same title. They are closer to the German Lied and, one is tempted to add, to Schubert, though Dvořák’s Slav accent comes through clearly and there is no hint of pastiche. They were written for a genuine, living beloved and have an intimate tenderness both charming and convincing.

The Biblical Songs, a neglected part of Dvořák’s vocal output., are in many ways the most revealing. Here the composer looks with a gentle, enquiring calm into a personal crisis that turned him towards religious thoughts and their expression, more as affirmations of simple piety than public declarations of religious belief. A clue to the shifting tonality of several of these songs (which anticipates Mahler’s later songs with orchestra) may exist in No. 5, Herr, mein Gott, ich sing ein neues Lied (Lord my God, I sing a new song). Anyone who could not find interest and pleasure in this welcome reissue would indeed be hard to please.


Roy Brewer



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