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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Stabat mater, for four soloists, chorus and orchestra, Op. 58, B.71 (1876/77)
Erin Wall (soprano); Mihoko Fujimura (mezzo); Christian Elsner (tenor); Liang Li (bass)
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks
Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Mariss Jansons
rec. live, 24 and 26 March 2015 Herkulessaal, Munich, Germany
Full Latin text and English and German translations
BR KLASSIK 900142 [77.55]

“My father’s God was not the God of Vengeance but the Creator, who sanctifies the journey through the ‘valley of death’ through his infinite love.”
Otakar Dvořák

Each season I try to attend a couple of concerts by the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks and was fortunate to report from one of Jansons' Herkulessaal performances of the Stabat mater. I was struck by the powerful sense of sacred awe generated at that concert.

Dvořák had a profound faith in God. It was the cornerstone upon which he conducted his life so it seems natural that the Bohemian composer would write a considerable number of sacred works. Tragedy hit Dvořák hard with the death of his two day old daughter Josefa in 1875. The next year his two children, Ružena and Otakar, died from poisoning and smallpox respectively. In view of his anguish it comes as no surprise that Dvořák, a deeply religious man, looked to the consolation of the Stabat mater the thirteenth century hymn to the suffering of Mary at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ her son. Successfully premičred at Prague under Adolf Čech in 1880 and acclaimed in London in 1883 Dvořák was invited to London to conduct a performance at the Albert Hall.

As I have come to expect from Jansons he has chosen a strong quartet of international soloists. By far the most successful voice is that of outstanding German tenor Christian Elsner. He gives a rock solid account - one of irrefutable reverence. A highlight is Elsner’s solo Fac, me vere tecum flere the epitome of vocal clarity, effortless delivery and sincere sacred expression. Canadian soprano Erin Wall in her tenor duet Fac, ut portem Christi mortem recovers convincingly from a little early wavering in the opening quartets. With her bright fluid tone she conveys a convincing sense of consolation. Japanese mezzo-soprano Mihoko Fujimura gives a highly respectable account of herself although her tone becomes just a touch flat on occasions. Fujimura’s pleasing solo Inflammatus et accensus is reasonably steady. It reveals a vibrato but one that doesn’t intrude unduly. Darkly resonant bass Liang Li from China expresses the seriousness of the text with innate sensitivity, although, occasionally his line is a touch uneven. Creating an almost sinister mood the bass solo Fac, ut ardeat cor meum is rendered memorably with a suitable depth of gravity.

Under the firm direction and persuasive pacing of Mariss Jansons there are not enough superlatives to describe the responsive performance of the orchestra who provide selfless playing of high integrity. Impeccably coached by chorus master Michael Gläser a special mention is owed to the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks in quite radiant form. They are expressively secure and show a full understanding of the sacred obligations and challenges of the Latin setting. Eloquently blended the singing of the quartet of soloists and chorus strikes just the right note of sacred inspiration. Performed in the superb acoustic of the Herkulessaal, Munich, Jansons makes a splendid case for the Dvořák Stabat mater; an inexplicably neglected score. Gratitude is due to the BR Klassik for including a full Latin text with an English and German translation in the booklet together with a helpful essay by Vera Baur. There's plenty of body in the sound with clarity and a satisfying balance. On this live recording there is very little extraneous noise. The audience applause at the conclusion has been left in.

Although the competition is strong Jansons proves more than a match for the rivals. Recorded thirty-nine years earlier than this 2015 Jansons performance Rafael Kubelik with soloists Edith Mathis, Anna Reynolds, Wieslaw Ochman, John Shirley-Quirk and the same Bavarian orchestral and choral forces give a stirring now classic account also from Herkulessaal, Munich for Deutsche Grammophon. On Supraphon a compelling performance is given by Jiří Belohlávek with his dedicated quartet of soloists Eva Urbanová, Marta Beňačková, John Uhlenhopp and Peter Mikuláš singing with profound feeling and reverential expression. Recorded in 1997 at Rudolfinum, Prague, Belohlávek a highly persuasive interpreter is given high quality support from the Prague Philharmonic Choir and Prague Symphony Orchestra. There is a desirable and satisfying account from Giuseppe Sinopoli performed by soloists Mariana Zvetkova, Ruxandra Donose, Johan Botha and Roberto Scandiuzzi with the Chor der Staatsoper Dresden and Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden. Sinopoli, just a year before his death, recorded the score for Deutsche Grammophon in 2000 at the Staatsoper, Dresden.

Michael Cookson



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