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.
Dvořák’s Stabat Mater was a work brought about by personal tragedy of almost incomprehensible proportions, after the composer lost all three of his then living children. A setting of the mediaeval Latin prayer to the bereaved mother of the crucified Christ, it was to become both a work of mourning and a work of healing. The shifts of mood from grief and near despair to hope and faith run throughout the work, before the glory and solace of the final Amen. Neeme Järvi conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir in this live concert recording.
This is a very significant historical reissue and Naxos and sound restorer Mark Obert-Thorn deserve warm thanks for bringing it back and cheap (Pearl had issued the same Dvorak in the mid-1990s, together with Feuermann's earlier recording of only the second and third movements of the Haydn Concerto under Frieder Weissmann, but it now sells at hefty prices on the marketplace, The Young Feuermann).
Dvorak’s enchanting fairytale of the water-nymph Rusalka has been a signature role for Renée Fleming for the past 25 years. The Gramophone Classical Music Guide writes: “Renée Fleming's tender and heartwarming account of Rusalka's Song to the Moon reflects the fact that the role of the lovelorn water nymph, taken by her in a highly successful production at the MET in New York, has become one of her favourites”.