Dvorak: Der Jakobiner / Albrecht, Dankova, Bronikowski
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Orfeo's ongoing series of major Dvorák operas and choral works constitutes a genuinely important contribution to the history of recordings, and I hope that it will continue as successfully as it has to this point. There is no other way to get fully acceptable, modern performances of masterworks such as Vanda, or St. Ludmila, and this new recording of The Jacobin, the first in many decades, may be the best of all. There's no other opera quite like it. As a comedy with serious elements, you really would have to go back to Mozart to find anything similar, even though the rustic village setting and plot remain very different from anything that you would have found in an 18th-century setting.
The story is simple, but quite moving. Count Harasov has disowned his only son Bohus as a result of his pro-revolutionary (French) sympathies, which have been exaggerated and distorted by the presciently-named Adolf, the count's nephew and now his presumptive heir. With the death of his wife the count wishes to retire and leave Adolf in charge, along with his pompous henchman, the Burgomaster Filip, who has his sights set on the lively and luscious Terinka, daughter of the village music master Benda. Terinka wanted to marry Jirí, a young hothead and (not incidentally) Benda's prized tenor. Into this situation step Bohus and his French wife Julia, refugees who in fact have a price on their heads arising from their opposition to the atrocities committed in the name of the Revolution.
The ultimate reconciliation between father and son is the primary theme of the opera, but it also has important sub-themes: love of one's country, the love of Benda for his daughter, the conflict between generations, the triumph of egalitarian ideals, and everyone's love of music. It is in fact music, in the form of the dead countess' lullaby sung by Julia to the embittered count, that brings about the happy ending. There's also a brilliant set-piece rehearsal (at the beginning of Act 2) of a homage cantata composed by Benda. It's fabulous. All of the characters, save for the evil Adolph, are fully fleshed out human beings, and the music follows the twists and turns of the plot with the sure hand of a master. The distribution of voices also is very effective: Filip is a bass; the Count, Bohus, and Adolph are baritones; Jirí and Benda are tenors, while Julia and Terinka are sopranos. This makes for some wonderful ensemble writing both with and without the chorus. It is simply impossible to listen to this piece and not conclude that Dvorák was as fine a composer of opera as he was at just about everything else that he touched.
With only a single (but excellent) previous recording available on Supraphon, there's not much competition in this piece, but this newcomer is every bit as fine as its predecessor. Among the women, Andrea Danková's Julia stands out for her beautiful tone and the conviction she brings to her Act 3 confrontation with the count, also very well sung by Christoph Stephinger. Marcin Bronikowski brings virility and intelligence to his portrait of Bohus, and his singing (along with Danková) of the big Act 2 duet "We have wandered in foreign lands" is both moving and impassioned. Michal Lehotsky and Lívia Ághová make a lively pair of young lovers, and Peter Mikulás makes Filip sound aptly bombastic without hamming it up too much.
Gerd Albrecht leads the entire cast, choirs, and orchestra in as vital and persuasive an account of the score as did his counterpart on Supraphon, Jirí Pinkas, and he has much better sonics and the excellent Cologne Radio Orchestra at his disposal. The libretto includes a full English translation and excellent notes. The only problem I can see is that at three CDs, this is an expensive set. Lasting two and a half hours, the work just barely fits on two discs, which is how Supraphon presents it (the timings are virtually identical in comparison), but the quality of the results here justifies the premium price. After all, until the rest of the world wakes up to just how great this work is and starts producing it as often as we see Rusalka, we're not exactly spoiled for choice, and I feel confident that you will fall in love with the music and play it often. So go ahead: treat yourself. This is what recordings are for.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
Catalog Number: ORF-C641043
Composer: Antonín Dvořák
Conductor: Gerd Albrecht
Orchestra/Ensemble: Cologne Cathedral Boys Choir, Cologne West German Radio Chorus, Cologne West German Radio Symphony Orchestra, Prague Chamber Chorus
Performer: Andrea Danková, Christoph Stephinger, Eberhard Francesco Lorenz, Lívia Aghová, Marcin Bronikowski, Mark Holland, Mechthild Georg, Michal Lehotsky, Peter Mikulas