Dvorak: Stabat mater

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WORKS: Stabat mater
PERFORMER: Mariana Zvetkova (soprano), Ruxandra Donose (mezzo-soprano), Johan Botha (tenor), Roberto Scandiuzzi (bass); Dresden State Opera Chorus, Dresden Staatskapelle/Giuseppe Sinopoli
CATALOGUE NO: 471 033-2
Dvorák’s monumental setting of the Stabat mater is one of the great works of his early career. Completed in 1877, it was almost certainly a commemoration of the death of his first three children and reveals a depth glimpsed only intermittently in earlier works. It also reveals perhaps unexpected aspects of his composing personality, a reliance on Baroque compositional styles heard clearly in the penultimate aria and a pronounced warmth towards Italian opera deriving from the ten years he spent in a theatre orchestra whose repertoire included much Bellini and Verdi. Neither tendency compromises the power of the work: the opening movement is one of the most epic and moving in 19th-century church music, and throughout there is a magical command of choral colour; little wonder English audiences took it so much to their hearts in the 1880s. This fine performance favours the Italian aspects of the work, resulting in a remarkable level of passion and involvement. The soloists are excellent, in particular the mezzo, Ruxandra Donose, who shines in her single solo aria. The chorus also performs with extraordinary commitment and only falls short in a very occasional flat chord. Indeed, this performance might be a field leader but for a slightly mechanical approach to some of the more repetitive figuration. The recorded sound inclines to a boomy bass and also sometimes allows the orchestra to overwhelm the soloists. There is much to admire here, but Belohlávek’s performance on Chandos remains a more complete recommendation. Jan Smaczny