Beethoven called Mozart's Requiem "wild and terrible", and that's what we get in Harnoncourt's new recording. Ominous dread hangs from every note of the dark opening measures, the Rex tremendae and Confutatis are driven with terrifying strength, and the supplications of the Lacrimosa, with their weeping stabbings of the orchestra, are freighted with emotional power. The Tuba mirum duet of bass soloist and trombone has a beauty almost never achieved in other readings. Nor does Harnoncourt overstep the stylistic boundaries of this classical-era work; rather, the intensity is heightened for being in the idiom of its time.
It was an imaginative idea to flank Dvorak's Czech-flavoured, turn-of-the-century view of the American outdoors with a pair of twentieth-century American quartets—the one, a passionate essay in musical dialogue, the other, a fairly radical study in proto-minimalism. There's an additional 'theme' in that Dvorak nourished his F major Quartet with 'American Indian-style' tunes and Glass flavoured his Quartet No. 1 with suggestions of Asian Indian music (for example, pizzicato cello glissandos)…I enjoyed it a great deal and felt that the Duke Quartet enjoyed it too. The Barber Quartet has the now highly popular Adagio at its core, yet its restless, rather Ivesian outer movements are hardly less attractive. Listening to it after the Dvorak highlights an honesty, sincerity and melodic sense common to both works, although Dvorak's easy tunefulness and breezy structure bespeak extra experience and a far more distinctive style. The Duke Quartet's performances are pert and lively…the Glass isn't otherwise available (at least not in this country) and its present programming context makes for a most engaging hour's listening.
This performance of the piano concerto is cherishable. It was not a work I knew when I bought this record but I fell in love with it quickly. It is by no means a second rank work - it belongs next to the wonderful Schumann piano concerto. At least that must be the conclusion of anyone listening to this magical performance.
Harnoncourt has already shown himself to be quite the Dvorak interpreter in other recordings, but this one may trump them all. With the Chamber Orchestra of Europe in blazing form, these performances show why these pieces are often used as encores.
This is Nikolaus Harnoncourt's best Dvorak so far, and one of the great recordings of the "New World" Symphony. Comparing it to the recent Abbado/Berlin recording on Deutsche Grammophon is instructive. Where Abbado is leaden, boring, and totally lacking in imagination and vitality, Harnoncourt offers bright colors, sprung rhythms, and an orchestra that plays with total commitment, on the edge of its collective seat. Listen to the thrust Harnoncourt gives the opening of the finale, to the gorgeous woodwind playing in a largo that is really slow yet never motionless or slack, or to the toe-tapping lilt he injects into the Scherzo's dance rhythms! Harnoncourt's care for detail uncovers fresh sounds everywhere, from the incredibly clear string figurations in large stretches of the first movement, to the single swish of cymbals in the finale and the gorgeous fade-away of the final chord.
The performance of The Water Goblin is no less gripping. Again, Harnoncourt takes great care with the percussion parts–the best in this department since Kubelik–clearly relishing the music's narrative aspects. When the Water Goblin thumps (via the bass drum) on the door of his (unwilling) wife's house, demanding her return, you can feel the room shake. He infuses the lyrical themes representing the girl and her mother with great passion and nostalgia, while the Goblin's tunes radiate malice and spite thanks to some magnificent wind playing. Harnoncourt and the orchestra sound as though they're having the time of their lives, like great narrators relishing a good ghost story over a campfire at night. Glorious sonics too, deep and rich. If you love Dvorák, you've just got to hear this.David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com