The Dvorak Cycle, Vol. 2 = Five Biblical Songs; Te Deum; Violin Concerto in A minor

by | Apr 26, 2008 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

The Dvorak Cycle, Vol. 2 =  Five Biblical Songs; Te Deum; Violin Concerto in A minor

Performers: Eva Randova, mezzo-soprano/Ivan Kusnjer, baritone/Livia Aghova, soprano/ Ivan Zenaty, violin/Prague Philharmonic Choir/Prague Symphony Orchestra/Jiri Belohlavek, conductor
Studio: Arthaus Musik DVD 102 137 [Dist. by Naxos]
Video:  4:3, color
Audio: PCM Stereo
Length: 81 minutes
Rating: ****

Live from the Alte Oper Franfurt 1993, this installment is one of a six-part video series devoted to the music of Antonin Dvorak.  Prague-born Jiri Belohlavek (b. 1946) suavely and unassumingly leads three fine staples from the Czech master’s catalogue of fine work: those five Biblical Songs which Dvorak orchestrated in 1895; the Te Deum written in 1892 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of the New World; and the 1883 Violin Concerto.

The opening Biblical Songs make for a devotional affect, as well they should, synthesizing the composer’s feeling for plainchant and his ability to color Biblical text with orchestral timbres of varying hues and shades. The flute figures in the first and fifth of the cycle; the clarinet in the second; an intimate body of strings in “Hear My Prayer, O God,” and a festive, martial ensemble concludes the sentiment, “I will sing a new song.” Economical and touched by a sense of mortality, the poems and their settings aim at a direct appeal to God, often in modal or harmonically spare accompaniments.

The Te Deum proves a festive work, quite large to mount, with the twin chorus of male and female singers occupying the entire back stage, soprano and tenor to the left of Belohlavek. After a Handelian opening flourish, the soprano praises the Lord with colorful aid from flute, clarinet, and tympani.  Trumpet and baritone bring forth the Tu Rex gloriae, the female choir’s invoking a kind of sea-farig rhythm to mark Columbus’ fateful voyage. If “America” enjoys a specific affect, it appears as a “land of dreams” in the course of the Dignare, Domine and concluding Benedicamus Patrem.  A final Gloria on a huge tympani roll brings this secular event to a ‘spirited’ finish, flamboyant and elegant at once.

Ivan Zenaty appears in the popular Violin Concerto, a piece that loves to indulge the oboes, cellos, bass fiddles, and flute along with the solo. Zenaty plays a lovely-toned Prinz von Oranje Guarnerius of 1743, and a full-blooded instrument it is. The camera often dwells on the burnished fingerboard, which Zenaty masters with blinding ease, only barely making eye contact with Belohlavek for an occasional entry.  At the conclusion of each selection, a bouquet of flowers graces the individual soloists, and a full house clamors its affection for a gifted set of musicians performing sweet melodies by a favorite Czech son.

— Gary Lemco


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