Rossini: Stabat mater

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COMPOSERS: Rossini
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Stabat mater
PERFORMER: Barbara Frittoli (soprano), Sonia Ganassi (mezzo-soprano), Giuseppe Sabbatini (tenor), Michele Pertusi (bass); Netherlands Radio Choir, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly
CATALOGUE NO: 460 781-2
Rossini’s setting of the Stabat mater, written during his retirement, used to be taken to task for being insufficiently reverent, too ‘operatic’ in tone. It’s hardly a criticism that would have bothered him or his Italian contemporaries, who would have seen no need to jettison quality vocalism or melodic ostentation in an attempt to be more pious. In any case Riccardo Chailly strikes a fine balance by observing the letter as well as the spirit of this often adventurous and subtle score.

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The locus classicus for an outbreak of unnecessary jollity is the tenor aria ‘Cujus animam’, whose martial rhythms and vigorous melody can, in the wrong hands, acquire too jaunty a manner. Chailly notes the Allegro maestoso marking, and the dolce direction to the strings, and the result has a surprising poignancy, underlined by Giuseppe Sabbatini’s scrupulous attention to rhythmic detail, accents, text and phrasing. He’s excellent throughout, and his breath control is astonishing.

Barbara Frittoli is often pleasing, though she lacks the steely quality for the dramatic ‘Inflammatus’ and her trills are skimpy. Sonia Ganassi’s light mezzo blends well with Frittoli’s lyric soprano in duet, but occasionally her vocal means register as slender in such full-blooded music. Michele Pertusi lacks a proper basso cantante quality for his solos.

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But no one is flattered by the sound, which is thick and opaque; the intricate counterpoint of the final chorus dissolves into sludge. The period-instrument approach of Marcus Creed and his Berlin forces, by comparison, allows Rossini’s luminous textures to shine in their true colours. George Hall