Dvorak: Saint Ludmila

COMPOSERS: Dvorak
LABELS: Arco Diva
ALBUM TITLE: Dvorak
WORKS: Saint Ludmila
PERFORMER: Eva Urbanová (soprano), Bernarda Fink (mezzo-soprano), Stanislav Matis, Alex Briscein (tenor), Peter Mikulás (bass); Prague Philharmonic Choir & Orchestra/Jirí B?lohlávekArco Diva (dist Czech Music Direct) UP 0078-2 232 113:53 mins (2 discs)
CATALOGUE NO: UP 0078-2 232
It took one of the grandees of the music publishing firm Novello to sell the idea that an oratorio on the bringing of Christianity to the Czechs could fly at the Leeds Choral Festival of 1886. In the event St Ludmila did excite much public and critical acclaim, although nearly all agreed on the wretchedness of the English translation. These days, even in Prague, outings for this noble work are few and far between. A pity, since Dvo?ák was devoted to the work and it wrote some of his most thrilling choral music for it, notably the incandescent concluding chorus to the first part. Along with numerous fine arias, the concluding act is of uniform brilliance, from its pounding, almost primitive opening, to the stillness near the close, a passage surely in Elgar’s mind as he worked on concluding passages of the first part of the Dream of Gerontius.

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This recording from the Prague Spring Festival of 2004 is disappointing. All of B?lohlávek’s instincts where shaping is concerned are sound and there is much fine orchestral playing, but the tenor line in the choir sounds stretched and the soloists are very mixed. Urbanová projects Ludmila’s heroic qualities excellently, if at times somewhat shrilly, and the two tenors soloists sound decidedly uncomfortable. Moreover, B?lohlávek opts for some unnecessary cuts. While the recording is good and Bernarda Fink an excellent Svatava, this issue comes nowhere near Albrecht’s performance on Orfeo. Jan Smaczny