Requiem, B165

Lisa Milne sop Karen Cargill mez Peter Auty ten Peter Rose bass London Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra / Neeme Järvi

LPO LPO0042 (85’)

Recorded live at the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London, on February 7, 2009

A new Dvořák Requiem goes up against Ančerl’s 50-year-old classic

The classic recorded performance of Dvořák’s Requiem, Karel Ančerl’s with international soloists and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, is now all of half a century old. It has found a place intermittently in the catalogue, and held one permanently in the affections of those who admire this uneven but moving work. Ančerl’s understanding of all that went into the music remains unrivalled, and even though the Supraphon recording quality of 1959 has been overtaken by subtler techniques, there is something uniquely haunting in, for instance, the grave intensity of the opening string theme and the bite of the brass in the “Dies irae”.

Others, notably Kertész and Sawallisch, have given smoother performances and been given richer recordings; and this new version from Neeme Järvi, recorded live at the Festival Hall, certainly does more detailed justice to Dvořák’s eloquent orchestration. Not the least of the problems for conductor, soloists and indeed recording engineers is his love of writing for the four soloists as a quartet, for instance in the “Recordare” and the “Pie Jesu”. This is not a work for soloistic egoism, beautifully though Lisa Milne sings in the Gradual and again with the contralto Karen Cargill in the repeated “salva me” at the end of the “Quid sum miser”, as does Peter Rose in the anguished calls of the bass in the “Lacrimosa”.

But this is essentially an ensemble work, and one of Neeme Järvi’s great strengths lies in allowing the excellent choir to sing with what sounds like an almost improvisatory fluency, though it is of course the product of a deep understanding and watchful control of Dvořák’s melodic lines. These can be unexpected; the music here sounds natural and always expressive. Järvi makes his points without labouring them. The heavy rhythms of the “Dies irae” are far more telling than over-emphatic thumping; the touch of harshness at the opening of the “Tuba mirum” exactly reflects the intention of the music; in the “Pie Jesu” there is grace and gentleness that never lapses towards sentimentality. Even if there is something grittier and more heartfelt in the old Ančerl version, this new one is no less true to a remarkable setting of the ancient words.


John Warrack

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