The early opera of Antonín Dvorák recorded here definitely falls into the historical oddity category. It's in German, not Czech, set to a libretto by a poet long dead by 1870, when the work was composed, and it is unknown why Dvorák would have undertaken such a sizable project. The subject is a British king, Alfred the Great, who also inspired the opera by Thomas Arne that contains Rule, Brittania, and even shows up in the Vikings television miniseries.
This is a fine Testament release taken from the archives of Netherlands Radio and enshrines some magnificent Barbirolli performances in somewhat opaque sound. The Satie Gymnopedie's have a delicate and loving sound that reveal Sir John's deep and intrinsic love for the miniaturistic charm of these enchanting pieces. Britten's 'Sinfonia da Requiem' was another Barbirolli speciality and this is one of many recordings available. However it is intriguing to observe the special attention and alertness that the Concertgebouw players impart to the music that takes on an added grandeur. However it is the Dvořák Seventh that is the real highlight of the disc as it is a version to die for! Sir John handles the music with real imagery and heart-on-sleeve emotion that almost rivals Kertész and Sejna, my other preferred versions in this landmark work.
Antonín Dvorák's Stabat Mater, Op. 58, truly merits the adjective "tragic"; it was written after the deaths of two of the composer's children in succession, and his grief rolled out in great, Verdian waves. There are several strong recordings on the market, including an earlier one by conductor Jiří Bělohlávek himself, but for the combination of deep feeling, technical mastery from musicians and singers who have spent their lives getting to know the score, and soloists who not only sound beautiful but are seamlessly integrated into the flow, this Decca release may be the king of them all. To what extent was the strength of the performance motivated by Bělohlávek's likely fatal illness (he died days after the album entered the top levels of classical charts in the spring of 2017)? It's hard to say, although he also delivered top-notch performances of Dvorák's Requiem in his last days. The members of the Prague Philharmonic Choir sing their hearts out in the gigantic, shattering opening chorus, which has rarely if ever had such a mixture of the impassioned and the perfectly controlled. Sample the chorus "Virgo virginium praeclara" to hear the magically suspended quality Bělohlávek brings out of the singers in lightly accompanied passages.
An imaginative mixture of the popular and the unusual. Barber’s only quartet has at its heart the famous Adagio for Strings: the latter is an arrangement of the second of the quartet’s two movements. That Adagio – which here benefits not only from the unfamiliarity of the chamber original but also from the Duke’s sensitively understated approach on their first recording for Collins Classics – is here surrounded by some captivating faster music (including a brief return to the opening Molto allegro’s ideas). And Robert Maycock’s excellent booklet notes hint at what those famous seven minutes of slow, sad passion in particular could really be said to be about: young homosexual love in the Austrian woods. Thirty years later, in 1966, another American in Europe, and still in his twenties, wrote his first string quartet, though it’s unlikely to be a direct reflection of love, this time in Paris.
"No. 8" is a popular song that is in line with "New World", but the performance of Abad here is just "Abado flow" music. It is a subjective strong performance whether there is a live change, such as a change in strength or freedom of expression, yet it is also a splendid place where the naturalness of the song is not lost.