Dvorák: Stabat Mater, Op. 58
When Dvoπák’s Stabat Mater was premiered, unseasonably for a Holy Week setting, on 23 December 1880, the orchestra and choir were small. Its palpable sincerity, founded on a desire to commemorate the deaths of his first three children, had a profound effect on the first audience and later did much to build Dvoπák’s popularity in much larger-scale performances, notably in England. Nevertheless, the small-scale treatment, as here, with only a slightly larger choir than at the premiere, can work well.
Philippe Herreweghe’s tempo in the epic first movement is relatively brisk, which makes its magical central section seem slightly rushed. Pity, since the soloists are excellent and the choral sound is nicely focused. His up-tempo conducting is less obtrusive in the following quartet, and works very well in the march-like ‘Eja, Mater’, almost always played too slowly under other conductors. Unfortunately, Herreweghe’s approach is more damaging in later movements, especially the duet ‘Fac, ut portem’ and the alto aria ‘Inflammatus’ which fairly fly along, barely establishing the genuine substance of this marvellous music. Overall, this performance is beautifully performed and recorded, but interpretatively it will not appeal to everyone. Helmuth Rilling’s reading with the Oregon Bach Festival Chorus and Orchestra, with an even finer quartet of soloists, including Thomas Quasthoff, is, all round, a more inspiring recommendation.