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Dvorak: Requiem; Rossini: Stabat Mater

Dvorak / Kertesz / London Sym Orch
Release Date: 11/06/2012 
Label:  Eloquence   Catalog #: 4804850   Spars Code: DDD 
Number of Discs: 2 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

DVO?ÁK Requiem 1. ROSSINI Stabat Mater 2 István Kertész, cond; Pilar Lorengar (sop); 1 Erzsébet Komlóssy (alt); 2 Yvonne Minton (mez); 1 Robert Ilosfalvy (ten); 2 Luciano Pavarotti (ten); Read more class="SUPER12">1 Tom Krause (bs); 2 Hans Sotin (bs); 1 The Ambrosian Singers; 2 London S Ch & O DECCA ELOQUENCE 4804850 (2 CDs: 149:03)

I asked to review this set because the conductor is István Kertész, who was one of the conductors I admired highly in my youth, but I did not know at the time that Pilar Lorengar was the soprano on both recordings because I hadn’t owned these particular discs. If you have read my review of the Deutsche Oper Berlin DVD set in the last issue, you’ll know that Lorengar’s voice affects me most of the time like nails on a blackboard due to her nanny-goat vibrato and often strained high notes, but I must say that on these discs, particularly in the Dvo?ák Requiem, I didn’t find her that annoying most of the time because, unless she came forward to sing a solo (which she doesn’t do in the Requiem until track 5, Quid sum miser), Lorengar’s voice is recorded pretty far back in the acoustic space. When I heard her at the Metropolitan Opera in the 1960s, she always sounded pretty good when she was singing from the wings or just entering the stage; the overripe vibrato didn’t become grating until she was forward onstage and one could hear her without that extra distance. Thus, only her most forward solos are an issue here, and these occur more often in the Stabat Mater. To be fair, I should point out that mezzo Yvonne Minton also had a similarly overripe vibrato, thus her solos—and the duet with Lorengar, Quis est homo—is pretty rough on the ears.

That being said, this is a deeply moving and highly detailed account of the Dvo?ák piece. Kertész’s grasp of the music’s structure, orchestral texture, and emotional content are simply stunning. I can’t recall having heard a finer performance of this work, and if I did the feeling and textures certainly didn’t impress me as much. In the opening Requiem aeternam, for instance, despite the generally dark orchestral colors, everything shimmers—orchestra, chorus, and soloists. I’m sure that some of the impact is due to the exceptionally fine engineering and microphone placement, but so what? This is what listening to a recording is for—to hear little details, and an overall ambience, that only exists in the most ideal live settings. And this recording, engineered by the masterful Christopher Raeburn, has exactly that kind of sound and feeling. Thus I would place this recording among others I honor and admire despite their having one or two poor singers.

Contralto Komlóssy also has a prominent vibrato, but it’s not as annoying as either Lorengar’s or Minton’s, thus one can listen to her solos with pleasure. It may be a revelation to some listeners not familiar with him to listen to the golden bronze voice of tenor Robert Ilosfalvy, a revelation to us in the late 1960s when he first popped up on recordings. Tom Krause is also quite fabulous, the rich and plangent texture of his bass-baritone voice distinctive and his emotional performance equally moving.

Moving on to the Stabat Mater, I found Kertész’s conducting equally effective as that of Richard Hickox on his excellent Chandos recording. In the opening “Stabat Mater dolorosa,” Lorengar’s and Minton’s voices are recessed so everything is fine, and Pavarotti sings a splendid “Cujus animam,” but then both women are brought closer to the microphone and things go awry vocally, particularly in the “Inflammatus,” in which it sounds as if Lorengar is singing a trill on every sustained note—except, of course, where the trills are actually called for, since her vibrato always got in the way of her trills. Needless to say, Hans Sotin is superb, and I was very pleased to hear that Kertész, like Hickox, conducted the Eja Mater (sung a cappella by bass and chorus) with the same serious dignity, thus making the music sound more religious and less like a Rossini “bass aria.” Thus the Requiem is highly recommended, the Stabat Mater not so much, but since the first piece takes over 90 minutes to perform you need to have the two-disc set.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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