Antonín DVORÁK (1841-1904)
Requiem (1888) [94:19]
Simona aturová (soprano); Jana Sýkorová (mezzo); Tomá černý (tenor); Peter Mikulá (bass)
Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno
Brno Philharmonic Orchestra/Petr Fiala
rec. live, Janáček Theatre Brno, November 2010
ARCODIVA UP0130-2132 [94:19]
The chief benefit of this recording, and it is not a small one, is that it reminded me just what a wonderful work this is. As masses for the dead go, this one is fairly sunny and optimistic, perhaps because Dvorák wrote it not in response to any personal grief but as a commission for the 1888 Birmingham Festival. In view of the circumstance of its genesis and premiere, it’s all the more of a shame that it is done so infrequently outside the Czech Republic as this deeply human work is bursting with such wonderful music. There is tenderness in surprising places, such as in the Sequenza with its gorgeous Ingemisco and even in the Tuba Mirum, normally filled with such wrath. The woodwind chorale at the start of the Offertorium, the lovely interplay of voices in the Hostias, the great fugue on Quam olim Abrahae and the beautiful, rapt conclusion are only a small sample of the great riches that this work has to offer.
The performance given here is satisfying but, to be blunt, nothing special. The orchestral playing is good and benefits from the live-ness of the occasion. The solo singing is very fine, but the recording is hamstrung by an acoustic which, to my ears, is frankly bizarre! All sounds good in the opening Introitus, with choral singing that is accurate, clear and transparent, but the entry of the soloists jars on the ear in a most alarming way. They sound dramatically closer, more resonant and they seem to be surrounded by a distracting echo that the rest of the performers lack. It’s almost as though they were recorded in a different acoustic and dubbed on later – not, of course, the case – but that’s how odd it sounds. As well as being off-putting it wrecks the moments when soloists and chorus combine, and, for this among other reasons, the big climaxes sound muddy and ill-defined. The chorus is very good indeed, especially in the intimacy of the Pie Jesu, but they seem to be miked to the detriment of everything else, even the orchestra.
Acoustics aside, the soloists are very fine indeed. The lustrous soprano of Simona aturová floats beautifully over the texture, and Jana Sýkorová’s mezzo is rich and fulsome. The really exceptional voice, however, is the tenor of Tomá černý, golden, burnished and very beautiful, injecting a burst of Mediterranean sunshine into the texture. Peter Mikulá, on the other hand, is a rather gravelly bass. Petr Fiala’s direction is solid, but could have done with more fire in the moments where the pulse should quicken, such as the Dies Irae.
So this is a solid performance, but its acoustic problems make it a version you can’t really live with, especially when you consider the strong competition.
A solid performance but acoustic problems make it a version you can’t really live with.