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Frank Ferko: Stabat Mater / Bode, Rambaldi, Choral Arts


Release Date: 05/31/2011 
Label:  Rezound   Catalog #: 5019   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Frank Ferko
Performer:  Juliana Rambaldi
Conductor:  Robert Bode
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Choral Arts
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



FERKO Stabat Mater Robert Bode, cond; Choral Arts; Juliana Rambaldi (sop) REZOUND 5019 (53:54)


The first recording of Frank Ferko’s Stabat Mater (1998–99) for unaccompanied chorus with solo soprano appeared in 2000 on the Cedille label. It was performed by its commissioners, His Majesties Clerkes (now called Bella Voce) of Chicago under the direction of Anne Heider with soprano Nancy Gustafson. Lawrence A. Johnson reviewed that release rapturously in Read more Fanfare 23:6. It is impressive to see a second recording of a major contemporary choral work appear in only slightly more than 10 years, but it is not surprising given the supreme quality of the work in question. I’ve been an ecstatic fan and champion of this piece since its creation, and have often said that I believe it is the finest American major choral work of the last 25 years and quite possibly the finest large-scale American work for unaccompanied chorus (rivaled perhaps by Ferko’s own Hildegard Motets ).


Frank Ferko (b.1950) was educated at Northwestern University and has composed in many forms, though he has focused particularly on music with text (choral and vocal) and organ works. He was composer in residence for the Dale Warland Singers and his music has been performed widely around the world by many noted performers including Nathan Gunn and Sylvia McNair. A large number of his pieces are inspired by the writings of Hildegard von Bingen, including a major cycle of choral motets and an hour-long organ work. Ferko’s compositional style is decidedly “mystical.” He has created a distinctly personal idiom that could be seen as a cross between Olivier Messiaen (on whose music Ferko is a noted scholar) and medieval and Renaissance choral syntax. The result is a magnificent blend of lushness and austerity, combining the rigor and energy of early counterpoint with the lush stasis of Messiaen-inspired vertical harmony. Though he has a keen ear for vibrantly colorful harmonic sonority, the music is not simply beautiful sounds with little substance, like so much contemporary choral music. Ferko’s music is constructed with an exquisite sense of balance, and Stabat Mater demonstrates it well, as the many small sections of the text allow for varied treatments that respond to the words with tremendous sensitivity.


Stabat Mater sets the traditional 13th-century Latin text in a series of short movements with five interpolations from other sources. The Latin text describes Jesus’ mother, Mary, standing beside the foot of his cross as he dies, and the interpolated movements connect Mary’s suffering to other examples of loss and death. The interpolations feature the solo soprano and consist of the Biblical narrative of Jesus’ presentation at the temple, Andromache’s lament from Euripides’ The Trojan Women , a poem by Irish writer Padraic Pearse (which gives voice to a mother grieving her sons killed in war), a poem on the AIDS epidemic by Charlotte Mayerson, and an elegy to a dead child by Sally M. Gall. These movements can also be performed separately, but they gain their full emotional power by their placement within the larger cycle. Particularly moving is the Pearce interpolation, “The Mother,” which is a heartbreakingly gorgeous setting.


Choral Arts is a professional choir based in Seattle, and this recording is taken from a 2010 concert performance. (There is some occasional noise, but nothing significant.) Robert Bode is a superb musician, and he leads Choral Arts in a first-rate rendition. Both this recording and the earlier Cedille release are extremely good, and thus you can’t really go wrong with either. Each has different virtues, and I’m very glad to have them both. For example, in “The Mother” the Cedille performance is more emotional, but solo soprano Gustafson is much more approximate in pitch than Juliana Rambaldi in the new recording. However, regardless of which you choose, make sure you hear this piece one way or another.


FANFARE: Carson Cooman
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Works on This Recording

1.
Stabat Mater by Frank Ferko
Performer:  Juliana Rambaldi (Soprano)
Conductor:  Robert Bode
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Choral Arts
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1997-1998; USA 
2.
Andromache's Lament by Frank Ferko
Performer:  Juliana Rambaldi (Soprano)
Conductor:  Robert Bode
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Choral Arts
3.
The Mother by Frank Ferko
Performer:  Juliana Rambaldi (Soprano)
Conductor:  Robert Bode
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Choral Arts
4.
From the Death Cycle Machine by Frank Ferko
Performer:  Juliana Rambaldi (Soprano)
Conductor:  Robert Bode
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Choral Arts
5.
Elegy by Frank Ferko
Performer:  Juliana Rambaldi (Soprano)
Conductor:  Robert Bode
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Choral Arts

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