Dvorak: Saint Ludmila - Bělohlávek
ArcoDiva UP 0078 (2 discs)
Classical - Vocal
Dvorak: Saint Ludmila Op. 71
Eva Urbanova (soprano)
Bernarda Fink (mezzo-soprano)
Ales Briscein (tenor)
Peter Mikulas (bass)
Prague Philharmonic Choir
Bambini di Praga
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Jiří Bělohlávek (conductor)
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Review by John Broggio - September 23, 2006
This is ArcoDiva's SA-CD début and a very promising début it is too. Recorded at the 2004 Prague Spring Festival, it presents the Czech Philharmonic in glowing colours ably directed if not spellbinding by Jirí Belohlávek. Irritatingly, the numbers 7, 16 (part one), 21, 22, 31 (part two), 40, 42, 43 (part three) are cut and with a playing time of about 50 minutes on the first disc and 63 minutes on the second there surely was room for these.
Saint Ludmila is in three parts; the first has some great opportunities for the chorus to shine as well as introducing to the main protagonists. Opening with hushed, murmuring tones the music expands into a male chorus (situated on the right from front to back) and immediately a tenor solo that welcomes Spring (from the rear left). The rest of the staging is conventional and the music contains many beautiful melodies which all concerned deliver to us with consistent beauty.
The second part is far more geared up to the soloists with the chorus having some rest in the early numbers. I find that the tone of the soloists is consistently bold without excessive vibrato but not strident. As this is a concert performance there are the odd raw moments from orchestra and soloists alike but nothing that should detract from any one's pleasure in any serious respect. The children's chorus is suitably angelic at the close of this section (and is balanced to hover behind your head).
The third part is the shortest and is mainly formed of duets but like the first part, opens with a choral number. As before the singing and playing is of a consistently high standard (if not lacking the odd minor blemish). The work draws to what at first seems to be a musically triumphant close before becoming increasingly humble and penitent.
Throughout the recording is beautiful with a pleasing sense of the acoustic present in the recording; all the various spacings are well balanced although I'm not sure how this worked in concert and have my doubts about whether it is entirely honest in terms of the presentation of the locations of the participants. The orchestral sound is ravishing and ideally clear when not covered by the chorus. At no point is the audience audible and for those to whom this matters, there is no applause left by the engineering team.
Recommended & I hope that ArcoDiva will grace my ears with more productions of this quality - if only they would record a Ma Vlast...
Copyright © 2006 John Broggio and HRAudio.net