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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Requiem Op. 89 (1890) [94:59]
Biblical Songs, Op. 99 (1894) [19:08]: (No. 1 Rings um den Herrn sind Wolken und Dunkel [2:29]; No. 3 Gott, erhöre mein inniges Flehen [3:46]; No. 4 Gott ist mein Hirte [3:45]; No. 7 An den Wassern zu Babylon sassen wir [3:32]; No. 8 Wende dich zu mir [3:31]; No. 10 Singet ein neues Lied [2:05])
Op. 89: Maria Stader (soprano), Siegliende Wagner (contralto), Ernst Haefliger (tenor), Kim Borg (bass),
Czech Chorus, Prague, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Karel Ančerl
Op. 99: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone), Jörg Demus (piano)
rec. Rudolfinum, Prague, January and February 1959 (Op. 89); Studio Lankwitz, Berlin, April 1960 (Op. 99)
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 476 5307 [72:40 + 41:34]


The liner-notes by John Warrack point out that Dvořák’s Requiem is not a liturgical work; it is rather an oratorio for concert performance. It certainly has the same melodic appeal as so much of the composer’s orchestral music. Although permeated by Czech folk tone it remains a setting of the traditional Latin texts both devotional and reverent, but also with grandiose climaxes. It has something of the character of Verdi’s Requiem, but it is not operatic. The melodious quality and the inventive use of chorus and orchestra should warrant it popular appeal. I am not so sure that it is performed that often; at least I have never had an opportunity to hear it live. I suppose that many readers have the same experience and have had to be satisfied with recordings. The one under consideration is a classic and is probably the best version available in a not too competitive field. There is an old Decca with Istvan Kertesz and Vaclav Neumann has also recorded it but I have heard neither of these.

This 47-year-old version, originally made as a collaboration between DG and Artia, Prague, offers a recording that is surprisingly full and lifelike with well-defined stereo sound and pleasant acoustics; no wonder when it was set down in the famous Rudolfinum. Even the most powerful moments are well controlled and there was only once a vague suspicion of slight distortion in the Rex tremendae, where the two female soloists sing a thrilling forte together. But I’m not even sure it was “real” distortion; it may just be some interference between the voices themselves. The Czech Chorus sing with conviction, immensely beautifully in for example Quid sum miser (CD1 track 5) where the female voices are really lovely against the dark undertones in the orchestra, and there is impressive heft at the end of Lacrymosa (CD1 track 8). Maybe the most impressive moment in the whole work is in the Offertorium with the concluding fugue after the Domine, Jesu Christe, which is repeated after the serene Hostias (CD1 tracks 9 and 10). Here Ancerl presses his forces to the limit, ensuring an almost ecstatic climax. He draws marvellous playing from the orchestra he knew so well, silvery strings, woodwind. Just listen to the ethereal flutes in the Pie Jesu movement (CD2 track 2) and the brass rasp impressively in the Sanctus (CD2 track 1). There have been a number of Ancerl recordings re-issued lately and this Requiem should definitely be counted among his most important.

The four soloists were very much in demand in DG’s studios during this period, not least on many Fricsay recordings. I have long had a soft spot for Maria Stader, once one gets used to her flutter which of course can be an irritant, but she sings beautifully here, not least in Quid sum miser, where she soars in her highest register. The versatile Sieglinde Wagner can be heard to good advantage in Domine, Jesu Christe, where also Kim Borg’s warm rounded bass impresses. He is noble in Juste judex in the Recordare movement (CD1 track 6) and shows his dramatic potential in Mors stupebit in the Tuba mirum section (CD1 track 4). Ernst Haefliger, whom I heard just a few years ago as the Speaker in Schoenberg’s Gurre-Lieder, was an important Bach and Mozart singer during the 1950s and 1960s and later became one of the most sought after Lieder singers. Here his mellifluous tenor is ideally attuned for Dvořák’s music and he opens the Recordare (CD1 track 6) – after the orchestral introduction – singing with great feeling.

Nobody can avoid being moved by this performance and the value of this issue is further enhanced by the inclusion of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau singing six of Dvořák’s Biblical Songs, sensitively accompanied by Jörg Demus. All the songs, except the very last, Singet ein neues Lied, are slow, but Fischer-Dieskau’s characteristically involved declamation, pointing his words with the utmost exactness, keeps the music alive. Occasionally he can be over-emphatic, almost barking, but there is no denying the intensity and honesty in his readings. He also has plentiful opportunities to demonstrate his magical legato singing on the softest of pianissimos. Just try Gott ist mein Hirte (The Lord is my shepherd) (CD2 track 6) with impressive breath control. Dvořák set the texts from the Kralice Bible (1579 – 94) in Czech but Fischer-Dieskau sings them in German.

The booklet includes the sung texts with English translations, making this issue a model of sensible production. The rosette with which the Penguin Guide garnished this recording, and the reason for being included in this re-issue series, is indeed well deserved. I would gladly add another.

Göran Forsling

see also Review by John Quinn September BARGAIN OF THE MONTH






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