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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Requiem Op.89 B165 (1890)
Gabriela Beňačková (soprano)
Ida Kirilová (alto)
Josef Protscka (tenor)
Luděk Vele (bass)
Prague Philharmonic Chorus
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Václav Neumann
rec. St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague, 1988
Sound Format; PCM stereo: languages; GB, D, F, SP: Subtitles; GB, D, F, SP: picture Format; 4:3: Region Code; 0 (worldwide): DVD 9 NTSC
ARTHAUS 102 063 [97:00]



No applause in church of course. So when Václav Neumann steps up to the rostrum in St Vitus Cathedral he bows to the audience, the totality of which we never see, with a pleasant but distant look. The camera angles are initially disconcerting. Close, tight shots of the principal cellist’s cello, shots of the drumsticks on the drumhead, a close shot of a small section of the sopranos. It makes for a rather claustrophobic start to the Requiem aeternam. After a while it dawned on me that the director was establishing the polyphonic heartland of the work and setting it in immediate motion; the ear, as it were, directed by the eye. These layers of visual polyphony, once established, don’t recur to anything like the same extent and the point, once made, is a good one. The other camera angles are in the main gimmick-free, apart from a camera shot from the side, and slightly to the back of the soloists, which proved a little queasy.
 
The soloists are a homogeneous though not entirely convincing unit. Beňačková is the pick of the quartet, powerful, imperious but also suitably yielding and good in ensembles. Her Slovak colleague Ida Kirilová makes for a rather florid partner. Her singing in the Tuba mirum is intensely dramatic but will be, for some, compromised by a big vibrato and an overtly operatic sense of projection. Josef Protscka, sporting his vaguely nineteenth century facial topiary, is an involving and attractive tenor. His bass colleague Luděk Vele is also noted as a bass-baritone and it’s the lighter voice that best describes him I feel. Though he has a solid downward extension he’s heard at his best in the upper reaches of the baritone register, where things sit comfortably for him.
 
Neumann directs with impressive and only occasionally impassive control. He sculpts the fugal passages with incision, though the long delay and decay of the cathedral acoustic sometimes blunts his better intentions. The Offertorium is a particularly telling example of his choral control. The orchestra plays well; there are numerous shots of the winds and rightly so given their important commentaries.
 
This visual documentation of Neumann’s Requiem is only very generally dated to 1988 but is nevertheless a valuable one.
 
Jonathan Woolf

 

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