Dvorak Requiem, Saturday 16th March 2019

After a gap of more than twenty years, the Chorale welcomes the opportunity to re-visit a work which Dvorak’s biographer Dr. John Clapham considers “one of the most lofty, eloquent and distinguished choral compositions of the nineteenth century”. 

The Dvorak Requiem has long lived in the shadow of Verdi’s setting, but has at times been more than favourably compared to it, though the two works are entirely different in nature.   Dvorak’s is not without its dramatic moments, but it is essentially a lyrical piece, with none of Verdi’s blatant theatricality, and rather more of its own composer’s typical melodiousness and colourful use of the orchestral instruments.   Scored for four soloists, chorus and a large orchestra, it was composed in response to a commission from the Birmingham Triennial Festival and first performed there in October 1891 under the baton of the composer.

Subsequent performances of Dvorak’s Requiem have not been numerous.   But two in particular stand out, especially for the circumstances in which they took place:  one in April 1971 at London’s Royal Festival Hall by the New Philharmonia Chorus and Orchestra conducted by Istvan Kertesz with an added last-minute and highly-charged dedication to Igor Stravinsky, who had died earlier the same day;  and, much more recently, in April 2017 at the Barbican, when the already frail Jiri Belohlavek, former Chief Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and as much loved in this country as was his compatriot Dvorak before him, movingly directed the BBC musicians in what all too soon proved to have been his last London appearance.                                                                                                JN / December 2018