Dvorak: Rusalka

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Dvorak
LABELS: Glyndebourne
WORKS: Rusalka
PERFORMER: Natasha Jouhl, Barbara Senator, Élodie Méchain, Mischa Schelomianski, Ana María Martínez, Larissa Diadkova, John Mackenzie, Brandon Jovanovich, Alasdair Elliott, Diana Axentii, Tatiana Pavlovskaya; Glyndebourne Chorus; London Philharmonic Orchestra/Jirí Bèlohlávek
CATALOGUE NO: GFOCD 007-09

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This is not just a souvenir of last year’s Glyndebourne premiere, but a competitive recording in its own right, with a first-rate conductor and fine, unusually youthful-sounding cast.

Although conductor Jirí Bèlohlávek’s Tristan was a great success there, his Rusalka actually turns out to be one of the least ‘Wagnerian’ I’ve heard, a valid contrast to the interpretations of Charles Mackerras (on Decca) and Václav Neumann (on Supraphon).

Bèlohlávek’s tempos and textures are crisp and translucent, his strings taut and nervy rather than lush, and the whole piece seems propelled by its springy folk-dance rhythms – plus, of course, the immediacy of live performance.

Ana María Martínez may be Puerto-Rican-American rather than Slavic, but she’s a near-ideal heroine. Met colleague Renée Fleming is more nuanced and heroic for Mackerras (Decca), but Martínez’s silver tones sound younger, naively yearning and tragically resigned, with an unforced sense of pathos – more natural than Cheryl Barker for Richard Hickox (Chandos).

Brandon Jovanovich’s Prince sounds equally young, his ardent tenor conveying impulsiveness rather than callous cruelty. Mischa Schelomianski’s bass Water Spirit, mellow but more incisive than the usual kindly old Slavic wobbler, assumes the role of tragic commentator that much more effectively.

The splendid mezzo Larissa Diadkova creates an unexaggerated but bloodcurdling Jezibaba, while soprano Tatiana Pavlovskaya is a less melodramatic Foreign Princess than usual.

The wood nymphs are appropriately manic, and the Kitchen hand and Forester, roles once commonly cut in Vienna and elsewhere, thankfully intact (though he becomes a tenor).

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Mackerras is more epic and Neumann with Gabriela Benacková (Supraphon) more idiomatic; but many may well prefer Glyndebourne’s airy alternative.