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Antonin DVOŘÁK (1841 – 1904)
Requiem, Op. 89 (1890)
Christiane Libor (soprano), Ewa Wolak (alto), Daniel Kirch (tenor), Janusz Monarcha (bass),
Warsaw Philharmonic Choir/Henryk Wojnarowski
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra/Antoni Wit
rec. Warsaw Philharmonic Hall, Warsaw, Poland, 29 May-5 June 2012.
Sung texts with English translations enclosed.
NAXOS 8.572874-75 [50:58 + 46:58]

Dvorak first visited England in 1884 when he conducted his Stabat mater. He returned several times after that and in 1891 he presented his Requiem for the first time in Birmingham. In spite of the obvious success he made with this work it has never entered the standard repertoire, not in the West anyway. This is such a pity since, like most of his music, The Requiem is a melodious and attractive work and the Czech folk-tones that permeate it further add to its attraction. More than eight years ago both John Quinn and I (review ~ review), independent of each other, reviewed the then 47-year-old DG recording under Karel Ancerl and praised it to the skies. Not least did we marvel at the recording which was lifelike and with impressive dynamics. Sampling it before putting this latest recording in the CD-player I was still utterly impressed.

Having played the new Naxos disc I have to admit that state-of-the-art recording techniques have made progress. What else is to be expected after 53 years? Dynamics are even wider, the balance between strings and wind ideal, fortes never sound raw and the choir is beautifully integrated. This is demonstration sound.

We have come to expect orchestral playing of the highest order from Antoni Wit and the Warsaw Philharmonic – I wonder how many recordings they have made for Naxos. I have dozens and dozens – and this recording is no exception. They even challenge the Czech Philharmonic and that’s saying a lot. The string playing is marvellous and the woodwind, so important in this work, are refined and ethereal. The choir also holds its own against the Czechs – you only need to listen to the Introitus to be convinced.. The violent opening of Dies irae (CD 1 tr. 3) is hair-raising - just as it should be – “Day of wrath, that dreadful day, the world will melt in ashes …”. Quid sum miser (CD 1 tr 5) is beautifully sung, with hushed female voices. The opening of Confutatis CD 1 tr. 7) is also magnificent and is followed by Lacrimosa where the end has superb punch.

In Part II Offertorium (CD 2 trs. 1-2) is as powerful as one could wish. Ancerl gets stiff competition here. The soloists is also a splendid quartet. The tenor shows signs of strain sometimes, in the Recordare for instance, where Haefliger for Ancerl is mellifluous and steady. Janusz Monarcha is good though he can’t quite erase memories of Kim Borg. The ladies are splendid and especially soprano Christiane Libor. Her singing in Requiem aeternam (CD 1 tr. 2) is outstanding and here she even surpasses Maria Stader. She and Ewa Wolak also blend beautifully in Quid sum miser (CD 1 tr. 5).

Ancerl is not completely ruled out by this newcomer and readers who already have his by now 56-year-old recording and are satisfied with only one version of this great work, need not bother to replace it. That set also has a bonus, which Wit lacks, in Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s recording of six of Dvorak’s Biblical Songs, accompanied by Jörg Demus. If you love Dvorak’s Requiem as much as I do, you should invest in the new one as well. I will never be satisfied with only one reading of Verdi’s Requiem either. Those who still haven’t discovered this Requiem should buy the Naxos set without delay.

Göran Forsling