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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]

I’ve sung in a number of performances of Rossini’s Stabat Mater and I think it’s a very fine work. However, the version which I know – and which is familiar to most people – is the one from 1841.
Until I received this disc for review I had understood the history of the Stabat Mater to be as follows. In 1831 Rossini was approached by a Spanish nobleman, who asked him to write a setting of the Stabat Mater. Rossini seems to have been equivocal about the project because, for one thing, he made it a condition of his acceptance that his setting was never to be published. Furthermore, whether through indifference or poor health, Rossini only composed part of the work: movements 1 and 5–9 of the work we know today. To complete the piece he enlisted the help of a friend and fellow composer, the otherwise obscure Giovanni Tadolini, who duly obliged by filling in the gaps, as it were, composing music for the other parts of the text. On the death of the Spanish nobleman in 1841 Rossini got word that a Parisian publisher was intent on publishing the Rossini/Tadolini score and so he hastened to compose movements 2–4 and 10 whereupon the score that we know today was published. I had understood that Tadolini’s music was lost but I was wrong. I have learned from Reto Müller’s notes that the composite Rossini/Tadolini Stabat Mater, finished in 1832, was performed by singers and orchestra in Madrid on Good Friday, 5 April 1833. The full score and orchestral parts are lost but a piano reduction survived. The conductor of this present performance, Antonio Fogliani, worked from that piano score and Rossini’s 1841 final version to orchestrate – or perhaps I should say to re-orchestrate – the piece. On this disc we can hear, for only the second time, the 1832 version in Fogliani’s edition.

The 1832 score consists of 13 movements. Before going any further, it may be helpful if I list those which are by Rossini himself and which, therefore, will be familiar. The Rossini movements, numbered as they appear in the 1832 score, are:-

‘Stabat Mater dolorosa’ (No. 1)
‘Fac ut ardeat cor meum’ (No. 8)
‘Sancta Mater, istud agas’ (No. 9)
‘Fac ut portem Christi matrem’ (No. 10)
‘Inflammatus et accensus’ (No. 11)
‘Quando corpus morietur’ (No. 12)

It will be seen at once that some key parts of the 1841 score are not by Rossini in the 1832 version. These include the celebrated tenor aria, ‘Cujus animam’, with its notorious top D flat and the concluding ‘Amen’. The present performance plays for 56 minutes and Rossini’s music accounts for 38 minutes. That means that Rossini composed 6 out of the 13 movements yet his music accounts for two-thirds of the playing length. That’s not a meaningless statistic; I mention those statistics to indicate that each of Tadolini’s contributions is on a rather more modest scale than those by Rossini.

The opening movement brings us Rossini’s familiar music. The drama is well projected in this performance but the choir’s opening phrases are not ideally quiet, nor are they particularly successful with quiet dynamics elsewhere in the movement, thereby sacrificing much of the tension in the music. With ‘Cujus animam’ we move into Tadolini territory. Interestingly, the words – three stanzas of the poem - that Rossini would later set in a single aria are here divided into three separate numbers by Tadolini. The ‘Cujus animam’ verse itself uses a tenor, as Rossini was to do in 1841. I’m afraid Tadolini’s effort is nowhere near as interesting. The solo line is florid and the music is rather superficial. Furthermore, I don’t care very much for José Luis Sola’s way with the music. His Italianate style may be appropriate but I don’t like the way he enunciates the words.

‘O quam tristis’ - the next part of what became the tenor aria when Rossini got to work on the text – is set by Tadolini as a duet for the two female soloists. It’s rather a good duet and Majella Cullagh and Marianna Pizzolato make a very convincing case for it. ’Quae morebat’ is a bass aria. Mirco Palazzi’s singing is reliable but didn’t really grab my attention and the same could be said of Tadolini’s music.

The next three stanzas, beginning at ‘Quis est homo’, are combined by Tadolini as a trio for soprano, tenor and bass. This music is effective. Even more interesting is the soprano aria ‘Vidit suum duclem natum’. I don’t think I’ve heard the Irish soprano Majella Cullagh before but I was impressed by her singing in this aria and, indeed, by her contribution throughout. ‘Eia mater, fons amoris’ is a duet for the two male soloists.

Most of Tadolini’s music has been decent enough but when we return to Rossini for ‘Fac ut ardeat cor meum’ the level of inspiration goes up several notches. Mind you, the present performance by Palazzi and the chorus, whilst decent enough, doesn’t have the electricity that I’ve heard in a number of recordings of the 1841 score. The quartet, ‘Sancta Mater, istud agas’ is, I think, difficult to pace. One certainly doesn’t want it to drag but if it’s taken too swiftly there’s a risk of trivialising the music. I’m afraid Antonio Fogliani falls squarely into the latter trap. His soloists cope with the frisky speed but are not given sufficient space to make anything of the music. ‘Fac ut portem Christi matrem’ is sung excellently by Marianna Pizzolato. Then Majella Cullagh ensures that ‘Inflammatus et accensus’ is fiery and dramatic; the chorus seem to take their lead from her and play their part in this movement very well.

Rossini’s unaccompanied quartet ‘Quando corpus morietur’ is sometimes sung by the chorus but here, correctly, it’s allocated to the soloists. After that it’s Tadolini who has the last word with a fugal ‘Amen’. To say his effort is a pale shadow of the music that Rossini would later write to conclude the 1841 version would be an understatement. Tadolini’s effort is efficient but I’m afraid it's no better than that.

Some of Tadolini’s music is better than I expected but I’m in no doubt that Rossini did the right thing when he stirred himself to ditch Tadolini’s music and compose replacement movements himself. This 1832 version is an interesting curiosity but no more than that. One thing that I should say is that Antonio Fogliani’s scoring of the Tadolini movements sounds entirely convincing to me; the orchestration fits well with Rossini’s in the other movements.

The performance as a whole is satisfactory. The two female soloists are outstanding; their male colleagues sing well enough but aren’t on the same level. The choral singing is serviceable. The Württemburg Philharmonic Orchestra plays well. Antonio Fogliani’s conducting appears efficient but lacking the electricity which a conductor such as Antonio Pappano brings to the music (review); still less does he achieve the spirituality of Carlo Maria Giulini. I deliberately haven’t made detailed comparisons in this review because this is a unique recording, using a different text to any other recording on the market.

Most recordings that I know of present the Stabat Mater on disc by itself but Naxos offer a generous coupling in the form of Rossini’s cantata, Giovanna d’Arco. This is sung by Marianna Pizzolato and she makes a fine job of it. The cantata contains two recitatives and two arias. Singing with full rich tone, Ms Pizzolato projects the text vividly and with feeling. In both of the arias she displays considerable vocal agility.

I don’t think anyone would expect the original version of Rossini’s Stabat Mater to displace the familiar – and much superior – 1841 score. Interesting though it’s been to hear this recording of the Rossini/Tadolini I’m very glad that Rossini eventually got round to completing the masterpiece we know today.

John Quinn



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