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Dvořák's Requiem Mass

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Dvořák, Requiem, op. 89, L. Milne, K. Cargill, P. Auty, P. Rose, London Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir, N. Järvi

(released on February 23, 2010)
LPO 0042 | 84'45"
The first and last new recording of Antonín Dvořák's setting of the Missa pro Defunctis, op. 89, to cross my desk was a slight disappointment. Imagine my surprise at receiving another opportunity to evaluate this lesser-known Romantic dramatization of the Requiem Mass, premiered in Birmingham, England, in 1891, in a new recording by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The tracks were captured in live performance at London's Royal Festival Hall, and while the rendition on offer here is better for being on modern instruments, there are some blemishes in the orchestral playing and some weaknesses in the chorus, particularly in the male voices' high registers. Similarly, the soloists are good while not perhaps being the dream cast for such a demanding work. Soprano Lisa Milne has a plangent tone, with plenty of strength if perhaps too much vibrato, while Karen Cargill has an appropriately earthy timbre. Tenor Peter Auty is a little too slobbering in the operatic quality of his voice, while the best of the quartet is bass Peter Rose, who has the same puissance heard in Santa Fe Opera's Billy Budd.

Recent recordings have the advantage of the availability of a critical score, published in 2001 in the complete works of Editio Bärenreiter Prague, approved by the Dvořák Society. This Requiem is a work that rewards multiple listenings, with its unusual use of percussion (especially in the Tuba mirum movement), its generally colorful scoring (for example, the bass clarinet croaking along with the bass soloist in the Hostias), and the elusive chromatic motif (sol-le-fi-sol) that runs through all the movements like a graveyard shudder. All local performing organizations should consider this an official Ionarts request: no more performances of Verdi's or Mozart's Requiem Mass or Bach's B Minor Mass until we have a performance of Dvořák's Requiem Mass in Washington. Apparently, I am too late for next season:
among the Washington Chorus, City Choir of Washington, Choral Arts Society, Cathedral Choral Society, there are already three performances of the Verdi (!), one of the Mozart, and two of the Bach scheduled for next season alone.

Another new release of Dvořák's Requiem, from Mariss Jansons and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, is likely to be even better (it has yet to reach my mailbox). It is centered on a superior chorus, the Vienna Singverein (celebrating its 150th anniversary), and has excellent male soloists in tenor Klaus Florian Vogt and bass Thomas Quasthoff, if the female soloists, including mezzo Mihoko Fujimura, inspire less confidence. Jansons also pairs the work nicely with the same composer's eighth symphony, which is a good way to avoid wasting so much empty space on two discs when the Requiem is offered by itself.

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