The notes tell us that this is a great musicological discovery, that Dvo?ák wrote a piano-accompanied version of his Stabat mater six months before he orchestrated it. But the fine print reveals that the score was unfinished, and that this is “edited from the composer’s manuscript by Miroslav Srnka.” The French text is even more revealing: “d’après le manuscrit du compositeur, reconstituée par Miroslav Srnka.” That suggests—to me—that this was merely a step along the compositional path, that the composer had no thought of the score being performed without an orchestra. Nevertheless, I find the piano version, at least in this recording, very effective. Despite the enormous choruses thatRead more performed it in the 19th century, this is an intimate work, and this performance with piano is the most intimate one I know. Dvo?ák was no pianist (run your mind through his ), which is both good news and bad. In the gentler moments, the piano part is very simple, often just a one-finger line with a small frill here and there. Once one recovers from the initial shock, the delicate introduction—it is more than three minutes before a voice appears—is lovely.
There is a passage in the finale that Dvo?ák later dropped, a gorgeous soprano-tenor duet with chorus; no doubt he thought it too operatic for a Stabat mater, but we are richer for hearing it. One of the work’s many assets is its glorious vocal writing; the tenor part makes anyone who attempts it sound like a junior Pavarotti. These soloists are all fine, sensitive singers, and not having to compete with a symphony orchestra allows them to hang on to the intimacy. Conductor Equilbey founded the chorus Accentus “for the purpose of performing the major works of the a cappella repertoire and engaging with contemporary creation.” Although this is neither, the well-balanced group (eight singers on each part) is an ideal size for this work. She leads a winning performance; her comparatively rapid tempos sound just right without the weighty orchestra. The recorded sound projects a gorgeous ambience, but it can turn a touch shrill in the (very few) louder passages. Texts appear in side-by-side Latin, French, and English. I love this performance.
HAYDN SEVEN LAST WORDS
The 13th version of the last and most complete statement of Haydn’s Good Friday mystery is well worth hearing, even though one of the most recent versions came from Naïve’s sister label Opus 111 (24:3). This time we hear a French vocal ensemble singing with a German chamber orchestra devoted to historically informed performance practice. The result matches the Spering version just cited and an older version under Gerd Albrecht (7:6) for the quickest performances on record. But tempo is no more than a reflection of Equilbey’s approach to interpretation. She uses a light-voiced chorus of at most 32 singers with the chamber orchestra in a novel way, approaching the music from the standpoint of the original orchestral composition and laying the vocal setting onto the instrumental articulation, rather than letting the orchestra accompany the voices. She hears Haydn expressing the utterances of the Savior in music rather than text. The result is not all that different than other performances, but it controls the way the work is interpreted. It is a more satisfying performance than Spering’s, which has a larger chorus and a live acoustic along with most other features of Equilbey’s approach.
The soloists, their voices fitting her conception very well, are integrated into the whole. There is a lightness about the execution that sets it apart from the equally valid but very different interpretation of Janos Ferencsik (9:4), the most solemn of all recorded performances at 68 minutes. Helmut Rilling (15:6), just reissued on Profil PH 05050, achieves the same effect as Ferencsik with a more moderate tempo in the reverberant acoustics of the Romanesque cathedral of Speyer. I’m reminded of the difference between any number of recent Mozart Requiems that won hosannas coming in under 50 minutes, compared with Karl Böhm’s solemn 1971 version that still makes a very profound but different impression at 64 minutes. I’d place this disc at the top of the period-performance group, but I want to remain open to the other way of hearing the work sometimes.
Seven last words of Christ on the Cross, H 20 no 2by Franz Joseph Haydn Performer:
Harry Van der Kamp (Bass),
Sandrine Piau (Soprano),
Ruth Sandhoff (Mezzo Soprano),
Robert Getchell (Countertenor)
Academy for Ancient Music Berlin,
Period: Classical Written: 1795-1796; Eszterhazá, Hungary
Stabat Mater, Op. 58/B 71by Antonín Dvorák Performer:
Pavol Breslik (Tenor),
Alexandra Coku (Soprano),
Markus Butter (Bass),
Renata Pokupic (Alto),
Brigitte Engerer (Piano)
Period: Romantic Written: 1876-1877; Bohemia