DVORAK: Slavonic Dances, Opp. 46 and 72 (Gunter Appenheimer/ Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra/ Zdenek Kosler) (Naxos: 8.550143)
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AntoninDvořak (1841 - 1904)
Slavonic Dances (First Series), Opus 46
Slavonic Dances (Second Series), Opus 72
AntoninDvořak must be considered the greatest of the Czech nationalist composersof the nineteenth and early twentieth century, and he certainly enjoys thewidest international popularity. His achievement was to bring together musicthat derived its inspiration from Bohemia's woods and fields with the classicaltraditions continued by Brahms in Vienna.
Dvořak wasborn in 1841 in a village of Bohemia, where his father combined the trades ofinn-keeper and butcher, which it was expected that his son would later follow.
As a child he played in his father's village band, his early training as aviolinist in the hands of the village schoolmaster. Schooling in Zlonice, wherehe was sent at the age of twelve, lodging with an uncle, allowed instruction inthe rudiments of music from Antonin Liehmann. Two years later he was sent toKamenice 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 in the butcher's shop. Liehmann continued his lessons and persuaded hisfather to allow him to study in Prague. In 1857 he entered the Prague OrganSchool, where he was able to remain for two years.
Dvořak atfirst earned his living in Prague playing the viola in a band led by KarelKomsak, which was later to form part of the Provisional Theatre orchestra,established in 1862. He was to become principal viola-player and to continue asan orchestral player for the next nine years, for some time under the directionof Smetana, who exercised considerable influence on Dvořak's parallel workas a composer.
In 1871Dvořak found himself able to resign from the Provisional Theatre orchestraand to marry. He took a position as organist at the church of St. Adalbert,taught a few pupils and otherwise devoted himself to composition. It wasthrough the encouragement of Brahms, four years later, that his music wasbrought gradually to the attention of a much wider public. In particular Brahmswas able to persuade Simrock to publish Dvořak's Moravian Duets. Their success was followedby the publisher's request for a further set, the first series of SlavonicDances, Opus 46, also composed for piano duet, but orchestrated at the sametime by the composer. The same year, 1878, saw the composition of the three Slavonic Rhapsodies, Opus 45.
From this timeonwards Dvořak's fame was to grow and he was to win particular popularityin Germany and in England, visiting the latter country on several occasions andfulfilling commissions for choral works for Birmingham and Leeds.
In 1891 he was appointed professor of composition at PragueConservatory and the following year accepted an invitation to go to New York asdirector of the new National Conservatory. The period in America gave rise toone of his best known works, the Symphony "From the New World". By1895 he was back again in Prague, teaching at the Conservatory, of which hebecame director in 1901. He died two years later.
Dvořak wrote his first set of Slavonic Dances in August, 1878,designing the dances for piano duet, but scoring them for orchestra at the sametime. The composition was in response to a commission from the publisherSimrock, after the great success of the MoravianDuets, published by Simrock at the suggestion of Brahms, who hadenjoyed similar success in a similar market with his Hungarian Dancesfor piano duet, published in 1869.
The second series of Slavonic Dances
were written during the summer of 1886, and orchestrated during the winter. Thetask took him rather longer than the first series of eight dances had done, butDvořak succeeded in continuing in the spirit that had informed the earlierset, adding eight dances that are in no way less inspired than the first eight.
While Brahms in his Hungarian Dances
had generally offered arrangements of existing melodies, Dvořak offerssomething entirely original, although the Slavonic Dances are essentially inthe musical language of Bohemia and neighbouring regions. As so often, hewrites music that is utterly characteristic of the folk-music with which he wasfamiliar, without resorting to direct quotation. Not only have the dances therhythmic and melodic shape of folk-dances, but they are enhanced by subtlety oforchestration and by the use of additional subsidiary musical ideas to whichover-familiarity should not blind us.
The forms of dance used include the very typical Furiant, as in thefirst and eighth dance, the Dumka, a Polka, the slowish country waltz of the Sousedska, the Skocna, with its hopping step and Serbian dances that hadbeen absorbed into a living tradition of folk-dance.
The Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra
The Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, established as a professionalorchestra in Bratislava (formerly Pressburg) in 1949, has won itself aconsiderable reputation during its relatively short existence.
Slovakia, which, with Bohemia and Moravia, became the Republic ofCzechoslovakia in 1918, was the source of a great deal of music during theyears of the Habsburg Empire. This musically fertile region has been influencedby Viennese, Hungarian and Bohemian music and it is these influences that havegiven the Slovak Philharmonic, one of Europe's finest orchestras, its uniquecharacter. On its many international tours, and at festivals throughout Europe,the orchestra has been praised for its great musicality and has been comparedby?á enthusiastic critics with suchworld-class orchestras as the Vienna Philharmonic.
The SlovakPhilharmonic Orchestra has benefited considerably from the work of itsdistinguished conductors. These included Vaclav Talich (1949- 1952), LudovitRajter and Ladislav Slovak. The Czech conductor Libor Pesek was appointedresident conductor in 1981, and the present Principal Conductor is the Slovakmusician Bystrik Rezucha. Zdenek Kosler has also had a long and distinguishedassociation with the orchestra and has conducted many of its most successfulrecordings, among them the complete symphonies of Dvořak.
During the years of its professional existence the Slovak Philharmonichas, worked under the direction of many of the most distinguished conductorsfrom abroad, from Eugene Goossens and Malcolm Sargent to Claudio Abbado, AntalDorati and Riccardo Muti.
The orchestra has undertaken many tours abroad, including visits toGermany and Japan, and has made a large number of recordings for the Czech Opuslabel, for Supraphon, for Hungaroton and, in recent years, for the Marco Poloand Naxos labels. These recordings have brought the orchestra a growinginternational reputation and praise from the critics of leading internationalpublications.
The Czech conductor Zdenek Kosler studied under Karel Ancerl at thePrague Academy of Arts, and distinguished himself early in his career at theBesan?ºon Conductors' Competition and in the Dimitri Mitropoulos Competition inNew York. The first prize in the second of these enabled him to work asassistant conductor with Leonard Bernstein for one year.
In Czechoslovakia Kosler began as conductor of the Prague operaensemble, before becoming chief conductor and music director of the opera inOlomouc and Ostrava. He spent a short time as permanen