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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Requiem, B165/Op. 89 (1890)
Térésa Zylis-Gara (soprano); Stéfania Toczyska (mezzo); Peter Dvorsky (tenor); Leonard Mroz (bass); Choeurs et Nouvel Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France/Armin Jordan.
Rec. Studio 103, Radio France, on January 18th-31st, 1981. [DDD]
WARNER APEX 0927 49922 2 [109’11: 52’57 + 46’14]



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It is a shame that Dvořák’s sacred music has never approached the popularity of his more famous symphonies, or his opera Rusalka (he wrote many more operas, by the way: a trawl through the Supraphon catalogue yields rich rewards in this area: go to www.ludwigvanweb.com). His Stabat Mater does get an airing occasionally (and there is a lovely recording by Sinopoli on DG 471 033-2), but it is a pity that this infrequency is the case. In its time, his Requiem (written in one year and premièred under the composer’s baton as part of the Birmingham Festival of 1891) scored a success and the work toured not only Bohemia and Moravia, but the United States, Germany and Austria also.

István Kertész’s account of the Requiem with the LSO on Decca provides a useful reference point (now on Double Decca 448 089-2 or Decca Legends 468 487-2); Karel Ancerl also has much to say on the matter (DG 468 487-2; Supraphon Ancerl Gold Edition SU3673-2). Both make a better case than Jordan.

Armin Jordan has never seemed the most exciting of conductors and in the present case he provides a reading that, at the price, can just about hold its own in the catalogue (it hails from the Erato catalogue). Both Kertész and Ancerl reveal greater affinity for Dvořák’s serenely lyrical outpourings (the ‘Dies irae’ sections are relatively harmless compared with Verdi, for example). The Introitus (‘Requiem aeternam – Kyrie’) demonstrates many of Jordan’s strengths: it is imbued with expectancy and the soloists are nicely balanced (Peter Dvorsky is the well-rounded tenor at ‘Te decet hymnus’). It is only in the Graduale that doubts really start to creep in. The choir, which sounded recessed in the Introitus, sounds more like a good amateur choral society than a national radio chorus. There is a somewhat blurred and indistinct impression that does not bode well and which in fact forecasts future events. The ‘Confutatis maledictus,’ for example, is heavy and stodgy and the choir is almost swamped by the orchestra.

The best asset this set has is the group of soloists. Each has something to offer. Térésa Zylis-Gara shines in ‘Quid sum miser’ (the fifth movement); Stéfania Toczyska has a lovely sound; Leonard Mroz’ huge bass commands attention in the ‘Lacrymosa’. Jordan, to his credit, is sensitive to Dvořák’s careful harmonic shifts and the orchestral soloists shine when required. There is much beauty in this Requiem (the close of the work is serenely touching), although at a running time of 1 hour 40 minutes, it would take a performance of greater conviction than this one to make for a truly uplifting experience.

Text and translation would have been nice, too. Warner’s ‘Apex’ series is lumpy in quality, and it has to be admitted that this is one of its more middling offerings.

Colin Clarke



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