Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Franz Ignaz BECK

Stabat Mater

Vocalenensemble des SWR
La Stagione Frankfurt/Michael Schneider with soloists Sandrine Piau, Heidrun Kordes, Derek Lee Ragin, Christophe Einhorn, Klais Mertens
KochSchwann 3-6583-2 [60 mins]
 Koch International

An exact contemporary of Haydn, Franz Ignaz Beck (1734-1809) was a pupil of Stamitz in Mannheim, but lived and worked mainly in Bordeaux, where he was rated highly. Documented information about Beck is meagre and the 3-page introduction is unable to date this Stabat Mater, which is reckoned his masterpiece. It failed initially at Versailles and caused something of a furore, because of his forward looking harmonic modulations; the orchestra sabotaged his instructions for extreme dynamic contrasts. It points towards Berlioz in its originalty and I fully endorse the commentator's claim that Beck is another neglected composer whose music, once heard, demonstrates, yet again, that the accepted canon of 'great' composers, with most of the others cast into oblivion, is misleading and regrettable.

There are 13 sections, five arias, three duets, a trio with solo horn and four choral numbers. The tenor soloist appears only in one duet, suggesting that he would have been drawn from the choir. The prevailing mood is celebratory rather than mournful; as is the case with Haydn, Beck does not make heavy weather of a mainly tragic text and a lot of the music moves briskly. There are two sweet toned sopranos, the American counter-tenor Derek Lee Ragin mellifluous and soft-grained, and the tenor & baritone parts are in capable hands. The orchestra is one of Germany's leading 'authentic historical performance' ensembles and has been associated in many recordings with Michael Schneider, head of Frankfurt's Ancient Music Department which is heavily involved in research and publishing. The SWR Vocal Ensemble (enjoyed in Stuttgart in Tallis & Huber - S&H review Eclat Festival, Feb 2000) specialises in 'lesser known or exceptionally demanding' choral music.

The introductory essay is comprehensive but although the words are given in Latin, German & English, these are consecutive, not in parallel. The track list on the case gives only tempo indications - that at the front of the booklet is given with the first few words in Latin - a lot of page turning is therefore required to sort it all out whilst listening.

This is a real winner and will give a great deal of pleasure to purchasers who don't pass over unfamiliar names and assume that minor composers wrote minor music. It loses half a star only because of the inept pagination of the track list and text.

Peter Grahame Woolf

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