Buoyed by the enthusiastic reception afforded his Stabat mater by English choral societies and commissioned to set The Dream of Gerontius, Dvořák turned, instead, to the text of the Latin Requiem, producing an even finer work in 1890. First performed in Birmingham to great acclaim the following year it has, in recent years, tended to be eclipsed by the Verdi, which it matches in scope but exceeds in length. It is closer in tradition to Cherubini’s model than that of Verdi and happily borrows rhythmic models from Mozart’s example.
Despite a few longueurs, Dvořák displays his customary richness of melodic invention, motivic threading, dramatic flair and an extended Romantic orchestra, complete with bass clarinet, harp, organ and tam-tam, all of which are put to effective use. His choral writing – clearly influenced by the prevailing heavy English choral sound – consists of divided male and female sub-choirs and a good deal of homophonic texture; nothing to frighten the natives, therefore. After a relatively tame few minutes it takes a massive choral wall of sound to finally achieve take-off. The Warsaw Philharmonic Choir are in fine collective voice. Their Mozart-influenced ‘Confutatis maledictis’ is especially vehement. The quartet of soloists are magnificent. In the Sanctus, Christiane Libor is utterly magnificent in her soaring ‘Pleni sunt caeli’ and Janusz Monarcha’s fruity, Slavic approach in the ‘Recordare’ is spot-on.
Orchestrally, this is a stunning performance. Perfectly blended woodwind are clearly focused on a wide-spread bed of strings. The recording is vividly engineered and everyone involved is on top form. A bargain.