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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Moravian Duets
Op 20 (B.50, 1876) [9:24]
Op. 32 (B.60 and 62, 1876) [30:39]
Op.38 (B69, 1877) [8:28]
Simona Šaturová (soprano)
Markéta Cukrova (mezzo soprano)
Petr Nekoranec (tenor)
Vojtěch Spurný (piano)
rec. 2017, Antonin Dvořák Museum, Prague
Texts and translations included
SUPRAPHON SU4238-2 [52:20]

It’s exceptionally rare to collate Dvořák’s sets of Moravian Duets in this way. One of the main objections has presumably been the similarity in subject matter and form, to say nothing of the fact that the 21 settings in three ‘books’ – we will come to the matter of the remaining two settings later – can be almost too much of a good thing. The fact that the Op.20 set is cast for female and male voices also complicates things for disc compilers, which is why selections have been by far the most common way to explore these enchanting works. Selections, of course, occlude the totality and variety of Dvořák’s achievement so a disc of this kind, which only lasts 52 minutes and yet includes all the Moravian duets, is of real value.

The genesis of the duets came in the period the 32-year-old composer spent as a teacher in the household of the Neff family. A proud Moravian, the paterfamilias encouraged Dvořák to write a sequence of duets. The texts were by František Sušil. In the end he decided not to go the easier route of adding a second part to monophonic folk songs with simply harmonised piano accompaniments, preferring instead to write his own music. The first set of four was written for the tenor and soprano voices of Jan Neff and his wife Marie though in this recording the female line is parceled out equally between soprano Simona Šaturová and mezzo Markéta Cukrova. The fast-flowing final song, a ploughman setting, is especially delicious here. The next set, Op.32, was written for two female voices, so that Marie Neffová and the family’s governess could sing them together. It was this set that earned the admiration of Hanslick and Brahms, who praised it and urged publication to Simrock. The first printing had German translations, a second edition adding a bilingual English text and only with the third edition did Simrock compile a three-language publication to include the original Czech.

It’s this set that has garnered most performances but the natural phrasing of the two native Czech singers and the witty, rhythmically vivid pianism of Vojtěch Spurný ensures that this performance enshrines a captivating sense of freshness, conversational agility and sentiment. Elements prefigure the Slavonic Dances to come – such as the sixth of this set, The Dove on the Maple Tree, and there’s brisk excitement here too, not least in The Ring (Prsten). The introspective intimacy of Grow Green, Grown Green is enhanced by deft pianissimos.

The final collection was Op.38 commissioned by Simrock to try to emulate Brahms’s success with his Hungarian Dances. The four settings are compact and characterful and not much different from their companions composed not long before: gentle, warm, lightly melancholy, and robustly athletic depending on the selected theme. Two duets remained unpublished in the composer’s lifetime, The Soldier’s Life, B62 and the 45-second On Our Roof, B118 and their presence here is of more than merely documentary value.

Schwarzkopf and Seefried famously recorded Op.32 with Gerald Moore in 1955 but they sang in German and in a rather more artfully-orientated way.

The recent recital was well recorded in the museum devoted to the composer (Villa Amerika) and Spurný plays on Dvořák’s own 1879 Viennese Bosendörfer, which has also been used in other recitals with equal success. The performers bring a spirit of youthful generosity to bear and judicious sampling will provide plenty of Moravian-based nourishment.

Jonathan Woolf


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