Notes and Editorial Reviews
Why is Rossini's Stahat mater so difficult a work to bring off with anything approaching complete success? Is it something to do with its hybrid nature; with Rossini's having originally set only half the possible movements? (Farming out, it is interesting to note, what are, from the literary point of view, the weakest verses in the medieval Latin poem.) Or is it that conductors and singers are led astray by a work which they perceive (or assume) to be 'operatic' when it is, in fact, formally and to some extent stylistically, quite unlike anything Rossini had written in his years as an opera composer?
Chung's conducting of the work is somewhat Karajanesque: extremely beautiful orchestral playing (the Vienna Philharmonic); a
choir who sing expressively but who yield something in focus and clarity of sound to the best rival English choirs (Arthur Oldham's LSO Chorus on the Kertesz recording or the same choir under Hickox); a strong dramatic sense with some unusual tempos that lead to the performance occasionally seeming mannered; and much fine solo singing, the singers encouraged to sing with great inwardness, with a special kind of quiet beauty.
This is where the performance differs markedly from the Hickox. There the soloists sing their solo numbers in far more open and extrovert manner. In the case of the tenor this works to Hickox's disadvantage, since Arthur Davies in extrovert mood merely sounds coarse and is no match for Raid Gimènez when he is being encouraged by Chung to husband his rescources and sing with honeyed charm. Hickox has the better bass in Roderick Earle, but, again, Chung sees his soloist through very effectively. Between Della Jones and Cecilia Bartoli there is simply no comparison; for Jones and Hickox "Fac ut portem" is a dramatic oration, for Bartoli and Chung it is a private meditation. You pay your money and you take your choice. Chung's soprano Luba Orgonasova is splendid. Having had to sit through her drearily static singing of Agathe's music in Teldec's recent recording of Der Freischiitz (Harnoncourt's fault, not hers) it was a great pleasure to hear her singing here with such fire and purpose.
Muti's 1981 Florence recording has recently reemerged as another possible front-runner, the more so as it is coupled in a two-for-the-price-of-one set with EMI's fine King's College, Cambridge recording of Rossini's Petite messe solennelle. Again, there are vocal compromises to be made; the tenor Robert Gambill is no more than adequate and Agnes Baltsa will give you a few scares. But the performance is dark-browed and characterful; and I like Muti's use of the soloists only in the a cappella "Quando corpus morietur", a movement which Chung takes with full choir, inordinately slowly. Despite fine choral singing and some equally fine solo singing (Pavarotti and friends), the Kertesz is a non-starter, ruined by the conductor's perfunctory treatment of the music.
The Chung is far from perfunctory. The soloists are as fine as any on record and the text is nursed with special care by both soloists, choir, and conductor. The integration of singers, orchestra and acoustic is not quite as well managed as on the Chandos recording where we have a church acoustic (St Jude's, Hampstead) as opposed to the more secular sounding Golden Hall of the Vienna Musikverein. Nor is Chung's reading as straightforward, as right-sounding as Hickox's. There are things in the Chung— the rather too jaunty "Sancta mater", the rather too protracted "Quando corpus morietur" — that seem irksome on a first hearing, let alone on repetition. Times, too, when selfconsciousness creeps in; when, to quote Verdi on Guillaume Tell, "You can sense the fatal atmosphere of the [Paris] Opera".
Yet if there are doubts to be harboured about the ability of Chung's performance to withstand repeated hearings, there is no gainsaying either the quality of the singing (superior, on the whole, to the Hickox) or the great care and affection with which everything has been prepared. In the absence of one outright recommendation, I would place the new Chung primus inter pares among what is currently a distinguished trio of runners-up.
-- Gramophone [2/1997]
Works on This Recording
Stabat mater by Gioachino Rossini
Cecilia Bartoli (Mezzo Soprano),
Raúl Giménez (Tenor),
Roberto Scandiuzzi (Bass),
Luba Orgonasova (Soprano)
Vienna State Opera Chorus,
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1832/1842; Italy
Date of Recording: 06/1995
Venue: Great Hall, Musikverein, Vienna, Austria
Length: 59 Minutes 23 Secs.
Stabat Mater: 1. Stabat Mater dolorosa
Stabat Mater: 2. Cujus animam gementem
Stabat Mater: 3. Quis est homo qui non fleret
Stabat Mater: 4. Pro peccatis suae gentis
Stabat Mater: 5. Eja Mater fons amoris
Stabat Mater: 6. Sancta Mater istud agas
Stabat Mater: 7. Fac ut portem Christi mortem
Stabat Mater: 8. Inflammatus et accensus
Stabat Mater: 9. Quando corpus morietur
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