DVOŘÁK The Complete Moravian Duets
Genuine charm is a rare quality, though this delightful disc possesses it in spades. It gives us Dvořák’s Moravian Duets complete, including the ‘The Soldier’s Life’ and ‘On our roof’, which were not part of the original collections. Written for private performance in the house of the Neff family, for whom Dvořák worked as a piano tutor, they famously put their composer on the musical map when they came to the attention of Brahms, who immediately recommended them to Simrock for publication, albeit in German translation. They are utterly enchanting, and it remains impossible not to be won over by their directness and immediacy, or to be indifferent to the freshness of Dvořák’s melodic invention throughout.
They’re shared here between three youngish Czech singers, accompanied by Vojtěch Spurný, who plays Dvořák’s own piano, an 1879 Bösendorfer, housed in the Antonín Dvořák Museum in Prague, where the recording was made. Simona Šaturová’s silvery soprano and Markéta Cukrová’s warm mezzo blend nicely in the Op 32 and Op 38 sets, where the parallel harmonies are pitch perfect and carefully shaded dynamics convey shifting emotions. Dvořák seemingly never intended the duets to be performed in sequence but it’s difficult to think of Op 38, where the texts are linked by recurrent imagery, as anything other than a unified work with a defined narrative trajectory, in which love founders in misunderstanding and grief. Op 32 is more varied, even discursive, but again one notices a gradual deepening of intensity as love gives way to uncertainty and the mood darkens.
The Op 20 set was originally written for soprano and tenor (Neff himself, who was clearly talented), though Šaturová and Cukrová divide the soprano parts between them here, which may be inauthentic but proves telling. Petr Nekoranec, very gallant and elegant, is their tenor. The opening ‘The Metamorphoses’, with Šaturová, is very much a love duet, rapturous and passionate, almost operatic in manner. ‘The Poverty’, with Cukrová sounding very intense, is moody and sorrowful. Spurn≥, meanwhile, proves an excellent accompanist, always supportive of the singers, knowing exactly when to hold back and when to assert himself, while Dvořák’s Bösendorfer makes a lovely sound, bright and articulate, particularly at the top of the instrument’s range. It’s an excellent disc, warmly recommended.