Performers: Gabriela Benackova/ Ida Kirilova/ Josef Protschka/ Ludek Vele/ Prague Philharmonic Chorus/ Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Conductor: Vaclav Neumann
Studio: Arthaus Musik 102 063
Video: 4:3, color
Audio: PCM Stereo
Subtitles & Menu: English
Length: 97 mins.
Vaclav Neumann is not a conductor that has generated a lot of excitement for me over the years. His readings have seemed middle of the road, supremely confident and competent, but not necessarily distinctive. He has much sympathy for the music of his local environs (like on this DVD), and some have praised his Mahler. But I approach any recording of his with a great deal of hesitancy, knowing that his gentlemanly manner may indeed have drowned the music in an undeserved wash of politeness.
But in the Dvorak Requiem, polite seems to work. This piece is not one of great bombast—even the ‘Dies Irae’ is a relatively tame, rather benign vision of the Day of Judgment. The work is intensely lyrical; in fact, it reminds me of the Faure Requiem in many places, especially the Graduale. The difference is that Faure knows when to quit, whereas Dvorak moves forth boldly, spinning his often times gorgeous choral work even though one gets the feeling that as much could have been said in half the time.
Nonetheless, this is a wonderful piece of music that has had comparatively few recordings, and even a DVD issue is most welcome. The live concert occurs at Prague’s St. Vitus Cathedral, and a beautiful baroque edifice it is. There are no tricks to the camera work like panning around for scenic shots that parallel what is being sung in the text, or other obnoxious little creativities that distract from the music. We are shown a concert, period, and nothing more is really needed. There is some focus in highlighting different instruments and instrumental groups, chorus, and conductor, all done decently and with taste. The sound in DTS 5.1 would have been wonderful considering the acoustic, but we are only offered standard PCM stereo, though it is excellent PCM stereo, with fine clarity, depth, reverberation, and a sense of spread. I will probably put this on in the future and turn the television off, but is still a fine visual production as well.
Neumann and forces are all in sync, with some especially glorious singing by soprano Gabriela Benackova. The audience is pretty quiet considering the venue, with few nasty interjections, though there are a few. All in all, this is a welcome video release fully deserving of your consideration.
— Steven Ritter