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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
The Spectre’s Bride, cantata, Op.69, B.135 (1884) [78:27]
Simona Šaturová (soprano)
Pavol Breslik (tenor)
Adam Plachetka (bass-baritone)
Wiener Singakademie
ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra/Cornelius Meister
rec. live 2-3 June 2016, Konzerthaus, Vienna
Texts and English translations included
CAPRICCIO C5315 [78:27]

Dvořák’s ballad cantata The Spectre’s Bride sets the poem by Karel Jaromir Erben casting it as an orchestral introduction and 18 subsequent scenes in which a baritone narrator and chorus comment on the evolving gothic tale of the Girl and her deceased suitor, the Spectre. At its premičre, which took place in Birmingham, gargantuan choral and orchestral forces were reported; the band alone was said to be 150 strong.

This new performance was given in the Konzerthaus in Vienna in June 2016 and directed by the German-born director of the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, Cornelius Meister. Two of the soloists are Slovakian; the bass-baritone Adam Plachetka is Czech. The score is full of vivid colour and recurrent motifs, the highlight of which is the frightening nocturnal journey to impending doom, a riveting affair well conveyed in this well-paced and idiomatic-sounding recording. Meister respects the importance of the wind writing in this score, balancing it well against the strings. Simona Šaturová is good, her early reminiscence of her lover being warmly and longingly textured even if she is very slightly shrill at the top of her range. Her prayer scene (No.17, track 18) is particularly well done.

The macabre and dramatic elements of the score survive intact. Its incipient or latent quasi-operatic moments are also as audible here as they invariably are; principally the superb soprano and tenor duet (track 11). Adam Plachetka’s youthful, pliant bass is attractive though Beno Blachut’s operatic core is the classic incarnation of the role in Krombholc’s 1961 Supraphon recording. That said the three soloists make a most plausible team, whether solo or in duet. There is a recent Gerd Albrecht-conducted version on Orfeo. His choral forces are more mobile than the Vienna choir – it’s a shame that Brno or Prague forces couldn’t have been involved as non-Czech choruses can struggle – but Meister has the better trio of solo singers and that is, in the end, more important.

Naturally the old recording by Krombholc and the much more recent Jiří Bělohlávek live Supraphon from 1995 with Eva Urbonavá, Ľudovít Ludha and Ivan Krusnjer, are charged with the sound of something special, however dated the recorded sound of the former. With Krombholc one gets the great trio of Drahomíra Tikalová, Beno Blachut and Ladislav Mráz in a twofer coupling with Novák’s The Storm. Here are singers for whom cantata and opera are, without any crudity, fruitfully interchangeable. My money is still on them but this more modest but well recorded Capriccio release is certainly attractive.

Jonathan Woolf



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