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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Stabat Mater (1831/32) Original version, with sections by Giovanni Tadolini (1789-1872), orch. Antonio Fogliani (b.1976)) [56:07]
Giovanna d’Arco, Solo cantata (1832) with piano accompaniment orch. Marco Taralli (b.1967) [15:13]
Majella Cullagh (soprano); Marianna Pizzolato (mezzo); José Luis Sola (tenor); Mirco Palazzi (bass); Camerata Bach Choir, Poznań; Württemburg Philharmonic Orchestra/Antonio Fogliani
rec. live 14, 15, 17 July 2011, Ev. Stadtkirche, Bad Wildbad, Germany
Original texts and English translations included
NAXOS 8.573531 [71:20]

Personal expressions of a deep Christian faith as they undoubtedly are, it is impossible to listen to any of Rossini’s sacred music without thinking of the opera house. The very operatic orchestral introduction to the Stabat Mater tends to direct our thoughts to stage emotion and false tears rather than genuine, heartfelt expression, and despite Rossini’s attempts to give seriousness to this most profound of sacred texts by casting the initial vocal entries as a fugue, by the time we get to the tenor’s first solo (3:55) we are firmly in the world of the operatic aria; something not in any way diminished by José Luis Sola’s almost Pavarotti-esque delivery. And with Sola’s first true Aria (“Cujus animam gementem”) we have given up all hope of taking this in any spirit other than as an exhibition of vocal and (in this instance with some impressively virtuoso woodwind) orchestral virility. If you like Rossini, you will love this; if you want deeply intense reflections on this sacred text, stick to other settings; notably Pergolesi’s, which, we know, Rossini himself deeply admired.

Perhaps we should not expect anything more, for the origins of Rossini’s Stabat Mater are decidedly prosaic. In early 1831, two years after Rossini had “retired” from composition in the wake of the success of Guillaume Tell, he went to Spain to chase up one of his wife’s debts. He found himself in the company of the music-loving prelate Fernández Varela. Perhaps wine flowed, but the upshot of the meeting was that Rossini offered to set any text of Varela’s choosing, and Varela chose the Stabat Mater. In the sober light of a Paris day, Rossini decided to overlook the commission, hoping it might go away.

It did not, and over the next year he set six of the text’s 13 stanzas, leaving it to Giovanni Tadolini, the musical director at the Théâtre-Italien in Paris, to do the others. This version was sent to Varela with the express instruction that it was never to be published or even leave Varela’s possession. It received a performance in Madrid on Good Friday 1833, and in return Rossini received a gold snuff box encrusted with eight large diamonds. On Varela’s death in 1837, Rossini sold the Stabat Mater to his Parisian publisher, having written the other stanzas of the text to replace the original Tadolini inserts. It is this (1841) version which is most often heard and recorded today.

This new release, however, reverts to the original 1831-2 version in what is billed as a “World Première Recording”. However, Rossini returned Tadolini’s original scores to him in 1832, and it seems Tadolini subsequently destroyed them. So what we hear on this disc has been reconstructed by means of a two-piano reduction of the original complete work and an illegal (and unattributed) publication by a Hamburg publisher of a Stabat Mater in the late 1830s which seems to be the Rossini/Tadolini work. For this performance, recorded live at the 23rd Rossini in Wildbad Festival, conductor Antonio Fogliani orchestrated the Tadolini stanzas from the two-piano version using, as the booklet notes put it, “his instincts as a musician”.

The interesting thing to note is how the Tadolini sections seem like off-cuts from much earlier Rossini operas; as if he had tried hard to blend in by using ideas Rossini himself had discarded; the “Cujus animam gementem” tenor aria is actually by Tadolini. The one exception is the heftily contrapuntal finale which, it seems, Rossini assigned to Tadolini for the latter was recognised as a particularly skilful contrapuntalist.

The Rossini sections have considerable distinction, not least the astonishing unaccompanied settings for chorus of “Fac ut ardeat cor meum” and “Quando corpus morietur”, although the quartet “Sancta Mater, istud agas” (another Rossini original) seems to come straight from a comic opera. The performances have a very operatic feel about them, and Fogliani has no reservations about emphasising the drama and colour of the music. His orchestrations have an authentic feel, even if he perhaps enjoys opportunities for wind display a little more than Rossini might have done.

Written at the same time as the Stabat Mater, Rossini’s cantata Giovanna d’Arco was originally scored for female voice and piano. It has had a chequered and murky history, as Reto Müller’s detailed booklet notes point out (adding, for good measure, an almost Freudian discussion on Rossini’s relationship with his mother), and the version performed here uses the orchestration of the original piano part made by Marco Taralli for the Rossini in Wildbad Festival of 2009. Once again the most obvious result of this orchestration is the fact that it is so powerfully redolent of the opera house, but unlike Fogliani’s work, it rather over-eggs the pudding. Marianna Pizzolato gives an appropriately dramatic performance as a very self-possessed, evenly matronly, Joan of Arc, not least in some gloriously virtuoso runs as the flames engulf her (only in a Rossini opera can a fiery death be so full of fun and so long-drawn-out). While this is an interesting thing to hear, and the performance is undoubtedly a glorious display for a wonderful voice, it hardly adds valuable insight into this elusive post-operatic Rossini work.

The playing of the orchestra is very good throughout and the chorus has a splendidly committed feel in the Stabat Mater. The recording is a little dry but generally clean, considering the fact that these were live performances, with a smattering of applause caught in places to reinforce the fact.

Marc Rochester

Previous review: John Quinn



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