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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Stabat Mater Op. 58 [87.34]
Mariana Zvetkova (soprano); Ruxandra Donose (mezzo); Johan Botha (tenor); Roberto Scandiuzzi (bass)
Chor des Sachsischen Staatsoper, Dresden/Staatskapelle Dresden/Giuseppe Sinopoli
rec. live, April 2000, Sachische Staatsoper, Dresden, DDD
Latin text, English, French, German translations included
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4710332 [54:27 + 33:07]

Giuseppe Sinopoli (1946-2001) was a controversial figure. He was much admired in some quarters, especially for his work in the opera house but was subject also to strenuous criticism by those who felt he often adopted extreme tempi or indulged in detail at the expense of the broader picture.
This recording of Dvořák’s Stabat Mater was made with the Dresden Staatskapelle, of which he was chief conductor at the time of his premature death, which occurred exactly a year later, in April 2001. It features music by a composer with whom, to the best of my knowledge, he had not previously been much associated.
It has been fascinating to compare this recording with the much-admired one made by Rafael Kubelik in 1976, also for DG. From the start of his recording it is clear that Sinopoli is intent upon a dramatic reading. In the first couple of minutes he screws up the tension to a higher degree than Kubelik does. In this he is assisted firstly by a more closely balanced recorded sound and secondly by fabulously rich-toned playing from the Dresdeners. Kubelik’s Bavarian Radio orchestra is also first rate but the Dresden players seem to me to be even more eloquent and responsive. Sinopoli is also, perhaps, a shade more attentive to detail, particularly in observance of accents. Actually, he is acutely attentive, without ever jeopardising the flow of the music, but I would not wish to imply in any way that Kubelik is superficial.
The two conductors offer a fascinating contrast. Kubelik, a renowned and seasoned interpreter of Dvořák, takes a more lyrical view, treating the work as a “traditional” sacred piece. By contrast, Sinopoli offers a much more operatic view. It is surely no coincidence that Jan Smaczny, in his very good notes, points out that prior to writing the Stabat Mater, Dvořák’s largest-scale compositions had been operas.
The choice of soloists for both recordings was almost certainly dictated by the approaches of the respective conductors. Kubelik has an excellent quartet including Edith Mathis, the admirable Anna Reynolds, Wieslaw Ochman and John Shirley-Quirk. All these are especially noted for their concert work. Sinopoli’s team sound much more operatic in approach. I enjoyed the contributions of the soprano and the tenor. Mariana Zvetkova possesses a strong, well-focused voice and, where necessary, she can ride comfortably over the top of the full ensemble. Jan Botha sings with pleasing, unforced tone and he, too, has power in reserve when it is called for. Both Ruxandra Donose and Roberto Scandiuzzi sing with too wide a vibrato for my taste, though others may disagree. Scandiuzzi’s very first entry in the first section, ‘Stabat Mater dolorosa’ (at 11:41) is a little democratic in pitch and although matters improve thereafter a steadier voice is called for, particularly for repeated listening. Ruxandra Donose suffers by comparison with Anna Reynolds, a much-underrated singer, who sings for Kubelik steadily and sincerely. By contrast Donose seems to be trying too hard. Heard purely as voices I prefer the Kubelik quartet, particularly the lower ones. However, it must be said that Sinopoli’s singers suit his interpretation perfectly – just as Kubelik’s team fits his conception.
Both recordings feature very good choral contributions. The Dresden choir is recorded more forwardly than their Bavarian counterparts. However, this is because in 1976 the DG engineers opted for a less up-front, more natural concert hall perspective which some listeners may find preferable. The sound is not as immediate but gives a better representation of what one might hear at a live concert. Paradoxically, although the Dresden choir is recorded in a more “present” perspective they are sometimes at a disadvantage against the powerful sound of the orchestra: other ears - and other audio systems - may register this differently.
The Sinopoli reading is extremely dramatic. However, I most certainly do not find it dramatic just for the sake of drama. He presents a completely valid view of the work and newcomers to the piece in particular may respond very favourably to a red-blooded treatment such as this. I enjoyed the performance very much, finding it compelling and cogent. The recorded sound is rich and full. Although this is advertised as a ‘live’ account there is no trace of audience noise. Would that some British concertgoers were so silent.
John Quinn