DVORAK: Overtures (BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/ Brian Pidgeon/ Stephen Gunzenhauser) (Naxos: 8.550600)
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Antonin Dvorak (1841 - 1904)
In Nature's Realm, Op. 91
Carnival, Op. 92
Othello, Op. 93
My Home, Op. 62
Antonin Dvorak must be consideredthe greatest of the Czech nationalist composers of the nineteenth and early twentiethcentury, and he certainly enjoys the widest international popularity. His achievement wasto bring together music that derived its inspiration from Bohemia's woods and fields withthe classical traditions continued by Brahms in Vienna.
Dvorak was born in 1841 in a villageof Bohemia, where his father combined the trades of inn-keeper and butcher, which it wasexpected that his son would later follow. As a child he played in his father's villageband, his early training as a violinist in the hands of the village schoolmaster.
Schooling in Zlonice, where he was sent at the age of twelve, lodging with an uncle,allowed instruction in the rudiments of music from Antonin Liehmann. Two years later hewas sent to Kamenice to learn German, but the following year the needs of his family madeit necessary for him to return to Zlonice, where his parents had now settled, to help inthe butcher's shop. Liehmann continued his lessons and persuaded his father to allow himto study in Prague. In 1857 he entered the Prague Organ School, where he was able toremain for two years.
Dvorak at first earned his living inPrague playing the viola in a band led by Karel Komsak, which was later to form part ofthe Provisional Theatre orchestra, established in 1862. He was to become principalviola-player and to continue as an orchestral player for the next nine years, for sometime under the direction of Smetana, who exercised considerable influence on Dvorak'sparallel work as a composer. In 1871 he found himself able to resign from the ProvisionalTheatre orchestra and to marry. At this time he took a position as organist at the churchof St. Adalbert, taught a few pupils and otherwise devoted himself to composition. It wasthrough the encouragement of Brahms, four years later, that his music was broughtgradually to the attention of a much wider public. In particular Brahms was able topersuade Simrock to publish Dvorak's Moravian Duets.
Their success was followed by the publisher's request for a further set, the first seriesof Slavonic Dances, Opus 46, also composedfor piano duet, but orchestrated at the same time by the composer. The same year, 1878,saw the composition of the three Slavonic Rhapsodies,Opus 45.
From this time onwards Dvorak's fame was to grow and he was towin particular popularity in Germany and in England, visiting the latter country onseveral occasions and fulfilling commissions for choral works for Birmingham and Leeds. In1891 he was appointed professor of composition at Prague Conservatory and the followingyear accepted an invitation to go to New York as director of the new NationalConservatory. The period in America gave rise to one of his best known works, the Symphony"From the New World". By 1895 he was back again in Prague, teaching at theConservatory, of which he became director in 1901. He died two years later.
Dvorak's first attempt at opera camein 1870 on the improbable subject of Alfred the Great. This was followed by King andCollier, written in 1871, and finally rejected by Smetana, after initial rehearsals at theProvisional Theatre had demonstrated its impossibility. The Pig-headed Peasant, written in 1874, was only stagedseven years later, before being withdrawn. The five-act opera Vanda occupied the composer for the second half of1875, but again success eluded him. The subject of the opera, based on an event in Polishhistory, was remote enough from Dvorak's real gifts as a composer of opera, which becameapparent, relatively speaking, in some of his later stage works, although these too failedto find a place in international repertoire, with the possible exception of Rusalka. The Overture to Vanda was the only part of the work to be publishedand is, in consequence, occasionally heard in the concert-hall.
The three overtures In Nature's Realm, Carnival and Othello have enjoyed much greater success.
Originally given the titles Nature, Life andLove, these three works were intended as atrilogy of symphonic poems, the first of them dedicated to the University of Cambridge,from which Dvorak received an honorary doctorate in 1891, and the second to theUniversity of Prague, from which he had received a similar honour a year earlier, theperiod of their composition. The three overtures are united thematically, by a recurrentpastoral theme, making its first appearance, appropriately in In Nature's Realm. The cheerful Carnival finds only a passing place for the theme,which assumes more importance in Othello,which has themes associated with jealousy and love, developed in the Allegro con brio thatfollows the introduction.
The overture My Home was written in 1881 as part of the incidentalmusic Dvorak provided for the play Josef Kajetan Tyl
by the playwright Samberk. The overture makes use of a song with words by Tyl, founder ofthe Czech Theatre and music by Skroup, a work music that later became the Czech nationalanthem.
The BBC Philharmonic has come tooccupy a leading position among British orchestras, distinguished by the RoyalPhilharmonic Society Music Award for large ensemble in 1991 in recognition of its standardof performance and wide repertoire in broadcasting, concerts and recordings. The BBCNorthern Orchestra was established in 1934 in pursuance of the policy of providingregional orchestras and in 1967 became the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra, in 1982assuming the title of the BBC Philharmonic. Based in Manchester, the orchestra has had aseries of eminent principal conductors, including Sir Charles Groves, George Hurst, BrydenThomson and Sir Edward Downes. Van Pascal Tortelier was appointed principal conductor in1992. The orchestra enjoys particular fame for its performance of contemporary music andhas performed under the direction of a number of eminent composers, among them Sir PeterMaxwell Davies who accepted the position of composer/conductor with the orchestra in July1992.
Conductor and Music Director of theDelaware Symphony Orchestra, Stephen Gunzenhauser is one of the few conductors active inboth the U.S. and Eastern Europe. Over the past ten years, he has helped build theDelaware Symphony into a major regional orchestra, while at the same time conducting andrecording with Eastern European orchestras including Poland's Silesian State Philharmonicand Czechoslovakia's Slovak Philharmonic
Stephen Gunzenhauser, a graduate ofOberlin College and the New England Conservatory, served Igor Markevich and LeopoldStokowski as assistant conductor before becoming executive and artistic director of theWilmington Music School in 1974. In 1979, he became conductor and music director of theDelaware Symphony Orchestra. He records exclusively for Naxos and Marco Polo and hisrecordings include works of Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Vivaldi, Mozart, Gli?¿re, andLiadov. In 1989/90 he recorded all nine Dvorak symphonies with the Slovak Philharmonic,as well as the three Borodin symphonies with the Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra.