Notes and Editorial Reviews
2001 Grammy Award for best-engineered classical orchestral recording.
"Zdenek Macal has the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra and Chorus matching the best Czech forces in Dvo?ák's gorgeous Requiem, aided by Delos's stunning recorded sound — the best I've ever heard of a large choral/orchestral work."
- James H. North,
Fanfare, Suggested Want List, Issue 25:2 (Nov/Dec 2001)
As a New Yorker with latent prejudice against my neighboring state, and as a lover of Prague and everything Czech, I am thoroughly rebuked and abashed by this release. These forces bring off a magnificent Dvo?ák Requiem, one that need fear no comparisons. The Czech Philhamionic? Under Macal's inspired guidance, the New Jersey woodwinds match that great orchestra's dusky tones, the local trumpets are cleaner and yet warmer than in Bohemia, and the trombones equally noble; strings are lush, full, just sweet enough. The best compliment I can pay the Westminster Symphonic Choir is that they sing like a Czech chorus; their American Latin is no less legitimate or effective than the European Latin heard in previous recordings from Prague. Czech choruses in the Ancerl and Sawallisch recordings do have a fuller sound in the climaxes, but I count the added clarity here as full compensation. Macal's soloists are glorious. Oksana Krovytska soars like Stader, with the warmth of Be?a?ková. Wendy Hoffmann solves the perennial problem of wobbly Czech altos; so did Ancerl's Sieglinde Wagner. John Aler's tenor sounds a touch fruity at his first entrance, but is rich and colorful from then on. That I remain partial to Ancerl's Kim Borg does not lessen my admiration for Gustav Belácek's vibrant performance, in ensemble, the four are superb, producing a rich blend while maintaining individual character.
Best of all, a sense of drama pervades the whole performance, in the quietest moments as well as in the thundering Dies Irae. Pacing is generally slow, but forward motion never ceases. This is only the second recording I know that holds my attention for every moment of the 90-plus-minute work. The other is Ancerl's 1959 performance with the Czech Philharmonic, which is also quite slow, That I now prefer Macal is due to Delos's stunning recorded sound, which clarifies the minutest detail without exaggerating, and sounds forth gloriously while maintaining ideal balances. I am eternally cynical of proclamations about new and definitive recording processes, and the notes here make the usual wild claims, but I am so impressed that I must give credit: Delos calls it "Virtual Reality Recording (VR2)." It serves all aspects of the performance equally well, which is nearly unheard of, and it provides generous reverberation without a hint of blurring. Quite a feat! I cannot remember a huge oratorio sounding so well in a live performance.
The conclusion of the Agnus dei brings a sigh of contentment—but wait, there's a filler: no less than the "New World" Symphony. Surely we don't need another? Well, this performance and its recorded sound are also riveting. The New Jersey orchestra is now completely exposed, and it continues to delight, despite a few imperfections. Woodwind chords are not quite in perfect tune, brass overpower some climaxes, and some tricky rhythmic moments are less than perfectly assured. The solo English horn is conservative, without the usual saturation of emotional color, and the change is welcome; Macal keeps the Largo moving along. The orchestra is blessed with a marvelous first trumpet, to whom conductor and engineers give center stage for the finale's main theme. The whole symphony is fresh and alluring; despite some slow phrases (the second theme of the Allegro molto), it never becomes stately, a not uncommon failing in performances of this music. While Delos's golden sound points up the slightest imperfection, it also thrills. This "New World" may be less subtle than the best performances, but I enjoyed it enormously the first time through.
- James H. North,
Fanfare, Issue 24:3 (Jan/Feb 2001)