DVOŘÁK Symphony No 9 'From the New World' (Shelley)
Themes of migration, border crossing and leaving old worlds behind while anticipating new worlds up ahead bind the two seemingly disparate works on this disc. Serbian-born, Montreal-based Ana Sokolović’s Golden slumbers kiss your eyes … for combined choirs, countertenor soloist and orchestra consists of seven uninterrupted movements set to texts in six languages drawn from folk poetry. The first piece features a vocal line energised by fervent incantation supported by slow, steadily repeating F naturals in the bass, sudden melodic stabs and sustained clusters, cumulating in a shattering, slowly building choral climax. The title-movement follows, highlighted by haunting interaction between the singer and a solo violinist, plus floating wordless choral passages against billowy clouds of chords.
For my taste, the use of antiphonal ‘speech singing’ throughout No 3 seems tacky and clichéd, but not the movement’s rhythmic ingenuity. On the other hand, No 4’s sultry tarantella features delightful countertenor melismas, in contrast to the following movement’s desolate introspection. Overall, Sokolović’s astute ear for textural variety and theatrical sense of pacing consistently hold attention. Pride of place goes to countertenor David DQ Lee’s effortless agility and easy assimilation of the work’s stylistic breadth. The absence of texts and translations, however, truly hurts.
As for Dvořák’s New World Symphony, the National Arts Centre Orchestra and Alexander Shelley face strong competition, although the first two movements offer much to savour. Note, for example, the stinging unanimity in the Allegro molto’s loud tuttis, the strong brass chording and the development section’s vividly articulated string counterpoint. In the Largo, the woodwinds and cello/bass pizzicatos interact with sophisticated delicacy; shall we assume that the second oboist Anna Petersen doubles on cor anglais, sweetly intoning the famous solo? Aside from the Trio section’s rustic lilt, the third-movement Molto vivace is rather underplayed and foursquare; compare it alongside the vivacious momentum and stronger canonic profile in Leonard Bernstein’s New York Philharmonic recording (Sony) and you’ll hear for yourself. However, the finale gains dynamism and confidence as it unfolds. Even if the final pages don’t quite match the trenchant impact of Szell/Cleveland (Sony) or the various Neumann/Czech Philharmonic (Supraphon) versions. Mainly recommended for Ana Sokolović’s imaginative and communicative work.