Rossini: Stabat mater

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Rossini
LABELS: Opus 111
WORKS: Stabat mater
PERFORMER: Iride Martinez (soprano), Sara Mingardo (mezzo-soprano), Charles Castronovo (tenor), John Relyea (bass); Chorus Musicus, Das Neue Orchester/Christoph Spering
CATALOGUE NO: OPS 30-247
Rossini’s Stabat mater is a fabulous but preposterous work, its jaunty tunes and upbeat marching rhythms absurdly inappropriate to the sombre text, a 13th-century devotional poem in which the Virgin stands grieving at the foot of the cross. (Beethoven once warned Rossini never to attempt anything but opera buffa.)

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Given the difficulties inherent in the work, this is a thoughtful performance. All four soloists sing with sincere conviction, sensitive to the profound sadness of the words, even if this is at odds with the orchestra. The choral singing and orchestral playing on period instruments are taut and incisive, and the sound clean and bright. But there is something hidebound about it, a failure to let rip in the most charged passages, as though Spering is overcompensating in his efforts to suppress what Charles Osborne has called ‘the work’s delightful vulgarity’.

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Compared with the competition, this recording seems self-consciously reverential. For sheer vocal gorgeousness, István Kertész’s mono recording for Decca (417 766-2) with Pilar Lorengar, Yvonne Minton, Hans Sotin and Pavarotti at the peak of his form, taking the high D flat in his stride, is hard to beat. But the benchmark remains unassailably Myung-Whun Chung’s sumptuous 1995 account with Cecilia Bartoli, Luba Orgonosova, Raúl Gimenez, Roberto Scandiuzzi and the Vienna Philharmonic. The singing is glorious and strikes a satisfying balance between the meditative and the declamatory; the orchestral playing superb; and the tension gauged so that it builds to the final climactic fugal chorus in an uplifting explosion of fervour. Claire Wrathall