The Collegium Vocale Gent, the Royal Flemish Philharmonic and Philippe Herreweghe join forces once again for a monument of the sacred choral repertoire: Antonín Dvorák’s Requiem, Op. 89. This work, dating from 1890, is one of those that marked a new phase
The later 19th century brought an increasing consciousness of national identity to various ethnic groups in Europe and elsewhere in the world. Antonín Dvořák, born in a Bohemian village where his father was an innkeeper and butcher, followed Smetana as the leading exponent of Czech musical nationalism, firmly within the Classical traditions of Central Europe. His early musical training was followed by employment for some years as a viola player, for a time under Smetana, and then, with the positive encouragement of Brahms, by a life primarily devoted to composition. Dvořák won recognition abroad and rather more grudging acceptance in Vienna. Between 1892 and 1895 he spent some time in the United States of America as director of the new National Conservatory, a period that brought compositions which combine American and Bohemian influence. At home again he was much honoured, resisting invitations from Brahms to move to Vienna in favour of a simple life in his own country. He died in 1904, shortly after the first performances of his last opera, Armida.
Rafael Kubelik was one of our foremost interpreters of Dvorak and other great Czech composers such as Smetana and Janacek. His critically acclaimed 1960's Dvorak symphony Deutsche Grammophon cycle was reissued several years ago as a budget-priced collection.
“Lotti's Requiem Mass in F major is considered by Thomas Hengelbrock the most important Requiem before Mozart's. It's full of expressive contrast: Lotti has an affection for a quasi-Palestrina style on the one hand and the skill to deploy more up-to-date techniques on the other. This Requiem is essentially in the late Baroque idiom, occasionally recalling certain of Vivaldi's larger sacred vocal pieces. The sections differ from the sequence usually encountered in later 18th-century Requiem Masses. There's neither Sanctus, 'Benedictus' nor Agnus Dei, but instead a very extended 'Dies irae' as well as a much shorter 'Requiem aeternam', Kyrie and Offertory. Full of theatrical gestures, supple polyphony, warmly seductive harmony and some beautiful melodies, the Requiem holds attention from start to finish. The contrasts are often striking, as between the hushed opening section and the awesome introduction to the 'Dies irae'. The a cappella Miserere is sung with clarity and finesse. The five-movement Credo is a supple piece for choir and strings with some affecting, shimmering harmonies in the 'Crucifixus'.
Two glorious Czech masterpieces are presented on this 2014 release from Alpha, performed on period instruments by the exceptional Anima Eterna Brugge, directed by Jos van Immerseel. Considering that Antonín Dvorák's Symphony No. 9 in E minor, "From the New World" was completed in 1893, and Leos Janácek's Sinfonietta dates from 1926, and the period instruments movement mostly has been concerned with Baroque and Classical era works, original instrumentation might strike some listeners as odd. Yet performances in the late 19th and early 20th centuries called for instruments that differ substantially in construction and tone quality from modern models, and the variety of timbres was much greater with handmade instruments than the homogenized sounds of today's mass-produced woodwinds and brass.