Dvorak: Stabat mater; Psalm 149

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COMPOSERS: Dvorak
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Stabat mater; Psalm 149
PERFORMER: Christine Brewer (soprano), Marietta Simpson (mezzo-soprano), John Aler (tenor), Ding Gao (baritone); Washington Chorus & Orchestra/Robert Shafer
CATALOGUE NO: 8.555301-02
The steady pace at which new recordings of Dvorák’s Stabat mater now emerge is a reasonable indication of the work’s rehabilitation. Beloved of audiences from Britain to Australia in the 19th century, this soulful but ultimately triumphant and comforting cantata suffered something of an eclipse in the middle years of the 20th century. Prompted almost certainly by the death of three of Dvorák’s children, the Stabat mater was unique in the Czech repertoire, both in scale and substance; its structural strength built on a clear appreciation of Baroque compositional practices, while its appeal derives from a profound, Romantic lyricism quite different from the more familiar, open-hearted melodiousness of the Slavonic Dances, written at more or less the same time.

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This new performance has some appealing qualities: its small-scale feel accords well with the circumstances of the work’s premiere by the modest forces of Prague’s Provisional Theatre (in marked contrast to the vast choruses Dvorák encountered when conducting the work in England). Unfortunately, the choral sound is occasionally fragile and unfocused, and much of the solo singing unmemorable. Tempi are mostly well judged, but choral lines are often unduly stolid, notably in the central section of ‘Tui nati vulnerati’. For greater depth and polish, Belohlávek’s recording on Chandos remains the leader. Jan Smaczny