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Dvorak: Requiem / Wit, Warsaw Philharmonic

Release Date: 11/11/2014
Label: Naxos Catalog #: 7287475 Spars Code: DDD
Composer:  Antonín Dvorák Performer:  Daniel Kirch ,  Janusz Monarcha ,  Christiane Libor Conductor:  Antoni Wit Orchestra/Ensemble:  Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra ,  Warsaw Philharmonic Chorus Number of Discs: 2
Recorded in: Stereo Length: 1 Hours 38 Mins.

Dvorák’s Requiem seems to be making a comeback, with new recordings by Järvi, Jansons, and best of all, this one by Antoni Wit, featuring the excellent Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir and four first-class soloists. It’s not an easy work to bring off as far as requiems go. Less histrionic than the Berlioz, less operatic than the Verdi, the work is symphonic in conception and structure, with a chromatic “death” motive that runs through most of its movements, and tightly integrated textures requiring careful balances between the soloists, choir, and orchestra.

The work’s architecture is impressive: two
Read more parts, each containing a central pillar marked off by repetitions of a big chorus, the Dies irae in Part One, and the Quam olim Abrahae (the catchiest choral fugue in the entire 19th century) in Part Two. That Dvorák was clearly thinking in terms of balance and large-scale structure is shown by his placement of the Pie Jesu between the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei. Normally it forms part of the Dies irae sequence, but here it represents an island of repose before the large-scale, recapitulatory finale, while bringing the timing of the second part more in line with the first.

One of the most interesting things about the Requiem is that, unlike almost all of its predecessors, it does not end with a vision of consolation. In fact, the conclusion is remarkably unsentimental, even grim, with Dvorák returning to the “death” motive and staying in a minor key right up to the final bar. Conceptually it’s more like Mahler’s Sixth, with its “fate” motives, than virtually any other contemporary work, and this fact may account for the music’s comparative neglect. It is, without question, a masterpiece.

Hitherto there have been two great recordings: Ancerl’s on Supraphon, and Kertesz’s on Decca. This one effortlessly joins them. Wit just may be the best conductor around these days for big choral works such as this (remember his knockout Mahler Eighth). He finds more ear-catching detail in the music than anyone else has to date. Even the biggest climaxes of the Dies irae never turn thick and heavy. The flowing tempos certainly help, but there is throughout a remarkable clarity to the textures that reveals a real podium master directing a first-class ensemble.

The soloists, who have a lot to do, are also uniformly excellent. In Christiane Libor we have a soprano with plenty of heft to the voice without a hint of shrillness; tenor Daniel Kirch never sounds like he’s crooning; Janusz Monarcha is a real bass, with no trace of wobble anywhere in his tone, while Ewa Wolak never sounds like she’d be better off taking the contralto lead in Gilbert and Sullivan. They are marvelous both singly and as a group, particularly in the mostly solo Recordare. First class engineering makes this a wonderfully satisfying release that hopefully will win many new friends for this powerfully expressive and masterful work.

– David Hurwitz,

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