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Antonin Dvorak: The Spectre's Bride.

Antonin Dvorak The Spectre's Bride Simona Saturova, Pavol Breslik, Adam Plachetka, Wiener Singakademie, ORF Radio-Sinfonieorchester Wien, Cornelius Meister--conductor. Text: German, English (libretto: Czech, English). Recorded: 2-3 June 2016, Wiener Konzerthaus, Vienna, Austria (live). Released: March 2017. TT: 78.25. I CD Capriccio C5315


At the beginning of 2016, a Viennese audience got to hear--for the very first time in the more than century-long history of the Konzerthaus--Antonin Dvorak's 1884 cantata The Spectre's Bride, Op. 69, B 135 (1884), based on Karel Jaromir Erben's eponymous ballad. Its performances on Czech stages have always been special occasions, while abroad they constitute truly extraordinary events. The two sold-out concerts in Vienna were recorded by the ORF1 radio station which, in co-production with the Austrian label Capriccio, within less than a year released an album put together from the performances. The conductor Cornelius Meister, the music director of the ORF Radio-Sinfonieorchester Wien, invited for the occasion the semi-professional Wiener Singakademie and three superlative soloists: Simona Saturova (Maiden), Pavol Breslik (Spectre) and Adam Plachetka (Storyteller), owing to whose engagement the CD has joined the ranks of the work's few benchmark recordings, which include those made by G. Albrecht in 1991, P. Tiboris in 1993, J. Belohlavek in 1995, Z. Macal in 2001 and V. Valek in 2001, and which are still overshadowed by the oldest album, with the conductor Jaroslav Krombholc (Supraphon, 1961).

The high-quality rendition is the result of the sterling efforts of the 37-year-old German conductor Cornelius Meister, who has devoted to Dvorak's symphonic and orchestral works with an admirably systematic focus, with one of the most noteworthy recent projects of his being performances in Vienna of the composer's tone poems based on Erben's ballads. Meister rounded off the cycle of concerts of Dvorak's programme pieces in a truly monumental way--with a performance of The Spectre's Bride. Even though Dvorak somewhat blunted the edges of Erben's spine-chilling ballad on hazardous playing with the other world and love transcending death by occasional soft harmony, the introduction, the orchestral interludes, the scenes of the Spectre's wandering with the Maiden and the scene of the Maiden at a cemetery contain a number of (not only onomatopoeic) passages that give one the creeps. Meister quickly drove the orchestra and the choir through the Erben tale, yet at the right moment he succeeded in suspending the musical flow and resting with the audience above one of the vocal scenes. The conductor benefited Dvorak's piece with pregnant rhythmisation, sharp accents in the brass instruments, pointed tempos and dozens of minor details, such as fierce crescendos in the cellos or highlighting of the solos in the winds--the bass clarinet, trumpets, and the horn obbligato in the opening Maiden's prayer. Meister's energy duly enraptured the Wiener Singakademie, who deserve praise for their outstanding declamation of the Czech text and mastering the rhythmically intricate chorus passages of Dvorak's score. Although by being faithful to Dvorak's original work the choir revealed the tricky passages that diverge from the current rules applying to declamation in the Czech language, they evidently fully understood the text and managed to draw the listener into the night-time wandering and chorus scenes, framing Dvorak and Erben's story. The three soloists are among the finest representatives of the contemporary Czech and Slovak vocal art known to the Viennese audience. Adam Plachetka, now and then resorting to the lowest dynamics, may not possess the profound timbre of the peerless Ladislav Mraz, featured on Krombholc's landmark recording, yet owing to his subjective approach to his part, immaculate articulation and the ability to cope with Meister's brisk tempos, he has accomplished his most exemplary Dvorak creation, which, in my opinion, is even more impressive than his albums of Dvorak's songs (Radioservis 2014 CR 0729-2, 0724-2). Initially, the choice of Simona Saturova struck me as somewhat surprising (to date, she has not sung many Dvorak roles), and in dynamic terms she fell short of the two male soloists at the concert, yet the sound direction had markedly improved her creation, one that may serve as an alternative to the commonly cast young dramatic sopranos. Saturova's long-term experience with early music mainly bore fruit in the two prayer scenes, in which she veritably rendered the text and succeeded in maintaining tension among the listeners. Inviting Pavol Breslik to portray the role of the Spectre was a masterstroke, as his voice lacks the Slavonic fervency of all the Jenfks and Princes, who have usually performed the role. In my opinion, he could have brought to bear greater irony, but his performance on the CD comes across as highly poignant and technically faultless in the high registers. Breslik's engagement represents a watershed in the interpretation tradition. In final analysis, The Spectre's Bride as conceived by Cornelius Meister is a great listening experience, with the CD being an absolute must for all Dvorak admirers.
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Author:Jemelka, Martin
Publication:Czech Music
Article Type:Sound recording review
Date:Apr 1, 2017
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