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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792 -1868)
Stabat Mater (1832-1841)
Helen Field (soprano)
Della Jones (mezzo)
Arthur Davies (tenor)
Roderick Earle (bass)
London Symphony Chorus
City of London Sinfonia/Richard Hickox
rec. 22 & 27 May 1989, St Jude’s Church, Central Square, London
CHANDOS CHAN10781X [59:37]

Chandos re-release Hickox’s 1989 Stabat Mater as part of their “Hickox Legacy” series, remembering the great British conductor who died in 2008. Hickox was always very good at big choral spectaculars - go to his Gerontius, Carmina Burana or Verdi Requiem for proof of that. In many ways he is the finest thing about this recording. The opening movement proceeds with a steady, ineluctable tread that gives it an unarguable sense of purpose, and Hickox isn’t ashamed of the sorrow that hangs over the subject material. He whips the orchestra and chorus into an intense frenzy in the Inflammatus, and he (almost) drives the music over the cliff in the final pages of the Amen. Many of the central movements are more sedate and less exciting. That helps to point up the sense of drama in the climaxes so it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Using a chamber orchestra also helps to shine a light on the inner textures of the work, and Chandos have done a very good job of capturing the sound in a recording of transparency and clarity.
 
Elsewhere, though, the performance is a little “standard”; nothing wrong with it, per se, but it doesn’t quite stand up to the finest competitors. The chorus, for example, sound very good in many ways, especially the thoughtful moments such as the Eja, mater and Quando corpus morietur. At other points, however, they sound rather too “British”; in other words too restrained and proper. It’s a particular problem in the final movement where I yearned for the Latin fire of Pappano’s Santa Cecilia chorus. Interestingly, the same chorus do a much better job for István Kertész in his fantastic 1971 recording for Decca.
 
The soloists, too, are fine, without being outstanding. Best of all is Della Jones, who sings Fac ut portem with commitment and beauty, and is altogether better to listen to than the often histrionic Helen Field. Roderick Earle’s bass is very good, if perhaps a little growly in places, and Arthur Davies is a strong tenor who copes with the difficult tessitura very well. The moments where the soloists sing together are very satisfying.
 
All told, then, this is a perfectly good recording of the Stabat Mater, and something you can be happy with at this bargain price. However, it doesn’t hold its own against the competition, especially the fantastic solo singing and thorough commitment of Kertész’s version or, more recently, the stunning recording that Antonio Pappano released from Rome in 2010. That most recent version is probably the finest recording the work has ever had and is worth the higher price.
 
Simon Thompson