DVORAK: Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op. 104; In Nature’s Realm, Op. 91; The Water Goblin, Op. 107 – Zuill Bailey, cello/ Indianapolis Sym. Orch./ Jun Maerkl – Telarc TEL-32927-02, 75:30 ****:
Recorded live in concert 3-5 February 2011 at the Hilbert Circle Theatre, Indianapolis, Indiana, this all-Dvorak program captures the colors and structural mastery of the composer’s late style, centered on his so-called “American period,” 1892-1895. The Cello Concerto, moreover, bears a secret intention as a love letter to Dvorak’s admired Josefina Kaunitzova, his wife’s sister. Cello virtuoso Zuill Bailey brings the pliant facile tone of his 1693 Matteo Gofriller instrument to bear with plastic, generously rounded phrases, supported by the Indianapolis horn section, led by principal Robert Dembar. Conductor Maerkl, a Celibidache acolyte, has well ingrained his master’s personal sense of time and musical spaciousness; and he and Bailey lavish bountiful leisurely interplay between the solo and wind instruments. The last pages of the first movement, particularly, enjoy brass fanfares and woodwind open-work that ripples with syncopated energy and vivid rhythmic élan.
For the second movement Adagio, ma no troppo, Dvorak incorporated one of his songs from Op. 83, “Leave me alone,” that had been one of Josefina’s personal favorites. Bailey and flute principal Karen Evans Moratz deliver a tenderly intimate duet prior to the tympani entry and the secondary subject, “Lasst mich allein.” Several of the lyrical passages in the upper register reflect the influence of Victor Herbert’s Second Cello Concerto, the work that convinced Dvorak of the viability of the medium after he had long discarded his first attempt at this genre. Only the second movement has anything like a cadenza, but the meditation soon finds the flute interrupting its melancholy with the call of Nature, the tympani’s and woodwinds’ contributing to the combination of fancy and fate. The elastic energy and bright colors of the last movement, Allegro moderato, eventually cede to an impassioned duet for cello and violin, Bailey and Zachary De Pue, in this case. That this duet presents a last tryst for Dvorak and Josefina seems perfectly natural. No less gorgeous is the secondary tune, accompanied by prominent woodwind playing from clarinets and oboes. The recording balance seems deliberately geared to the evocation of Dvorak’s most sensuously sonorous blends, courtesy of Michael Bishop. A decidedly youthful audience literally whoops upon the closing chords.
The two symphonic poems led by Maerkl illustrate the various layers of Dvorak’s humanistic pantheism, his delving occasionally in Nature’s dark side. The influence of Erben’s A Bouquet of Poems inspired Dvorak to conceive a cycle of some four tone-poems, each with a strong folk base and several distinctive nightmare elements in the manner of the Brothers Grimm. The Water Goblin (1896) utilizes an opening whirling motif that saturates the extended rondo, abetted by some brilliant melodic tissue and deft scoring. The exquisite violin melody may well represent the “daughter” trope or possibly her lullaby to her infant son by the fearsome sprite living beneath the lake. Typically, the orchestration includes enchanting horn and tympani work, strings and woodwinds utilized in a transparent blend of rustic and sophisticate’s compositional techniques. The sheen the ISO projects well reminds us of the sterling examples set by Vaclav Talich in this music two generations ago. Dvorak’s seamless merging of dramatic episodes and mood shifts with that “and so my children” aspect of fairy-tale-moralizing in music never fails to evoke our awe at his uncanny mastery of communication to “the people.”
In Nature’s Realm (1891) serves, in the form of a concert overture, to open an orchestral triptych entitled “Nature, Life, and Love” that includes the Carnival Overture and the Othello Overture. Two long notes descending a minor third followed by a pentatonic scale provide the impetus for this pictorial work in which the ducks seem to rise off the lake, and the melodies celebrate the infinite richness and variety of Nature’s bounty. Whatever dark or martial impulses infiltrate the progression, the music inevitably bears the quality of a deeply mystical chorale, the spirit of which we can hear in the Slavonic Dance in D-flat, Op. 72, No. 4. As vehicles for the sweet sonorities of the ISO, these Dvorak works have more than fulfilled their requirements.
French Romantic and Impressionism… Ivan Ilich