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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1907)
Stabat Mater Op. 58 (1876-77)
Yvonne Kenny (soprano); Eva Randová (mezzo); Wieslaw Ochmann (tenor); Ján Galla (bass)
Prague Philharmonic Chorus
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Vaclav Neumann.
rec. Vladislav Hall, Hradčany, Prague, 1989.
PCM Stereo; 4:3 DVD 9; NTSC.
ARTHAUS MUSIC 102109 [87:00]

Although just too long to settle onto a single CD, Dvořák’s Stabat Mater makes for a short DVD - at just under one and a half hours. In this case, though, I would be inclined to ignore the value-for-money angle and recommend purchase for this radiant performance of a radiant work.
Dvořák began sketching his Stabat Mater in the immediate aftermath of the death of his infant daughter, returning to it after the death of his children Ruzena and Otakar; the deaths occurred within a few weeks of each other. The work brought the composer much success both at home and abroad, particularly in England.
The mood of the text is broadly in two parts. The booklet claims the author to have been Iacopone da Todi, but this is not set in stone and Innocent III is another likely author. Initially, the concentration is on the sorrow and suffering of the Mother of Christ, while the mood turns later, from the fifth movement onwards, towards the hope inherent in the Resurrection.
The recorded history of this work includes such luminaries as Kubelík, Talich and Smetáček. It is no exaggeration to state that this reading is fully deserving of mention in the same breath as the above. It seems to have the DVD market to itself, but that is no real problem given the stature of the performance. Neumann scales his performance perfectly, both on a global level and on a more immediate one within the ten individual movements. The absolute crystal clarity of the shot of Neumann at the beginning is impressive on first viewing. It is instructive to watch his clear and expressive beat; just as it is easy to marvel at his intimate acquaintance with the score.
The first movement - Stabat mater dolorosa, the first four verses - is surprisingly forward-looking in terms of the composer’s expression, painting a near-Mahlerian expanse. The bare walls of the venue seem very much in keeping with the desolation of the music here. The tenor entrance (10:15) introduces Wieslaw Ochmann at full pelt, although the viewing experience is marred by some faulty lip-synching. Yvonne Kenny is magnificent at 'O quam tristis'. All four soloists, in fact, are excellent. It is interesting to note that while Randová can be guilty of having her head in the score, Kenny’s eyes seem glued to Neumann.
The characteristic Dvořákian cor anglais tint to the texture of 'Quis et homo' is most effective, especially when rendered as expressively as here. Randová exhibits a rather large vibrato here yet the sheer quality of her voice compensates. In the passages of Randová in duet with Kenny’s radiant soprano it is evident why this line-up was chosen. Jan Galla’s bass is very focused in this movement.
The chorus under Lubomír Mátl is astonishingly well disciplined, and capable of great power when necessary. Balancing is uniformly excellent, too. Only in 'Fac me vere tecum fiere' is there a suspicion of congestion. Curiously, Ochmann sounds a little bleaty in this self-same movement.
It is Neumann’s evident passion for every note of the score that shines through most. This is a very special DVD that deserves every success.
It is worth noting that Supraphon recently reissued the mono 1952 Talich reading of this work, spread over two discs and coupled with Suk’s Asrael Symphony. Giuseppe Sinopoli provides an inexplicably under-rated and heartfelt recording on DG with Dresden-based forces. For more Neumann on DVD, his reading of the Dvořák Requiem is also available on Arthaus (102 063).
Colin Clarke


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