ROSSINI: Stabat Mater. Helen Field, soprano; Della Jones, mezzo-soprano; Arthur Davies, tenor; Roderick Earle, bass; London Symphony Chorus, City of London Sinfonia, Richard Hickox conducting. Chandos CHAN-8780 .
To a longtime admirer of Rossini's Stabat Mater, far more often touched and even compelled by its music than say a totally appropriate setting by a staid German or careful Englishman, it comes as an irritation to find program notes for this recording that again rake up the incongruities of Rossini's setting, characterizing the "Cujus animam" as "humorously jaunty" and the cavatina preceding the "Inflammatus" as "utterly bewildering as a word setting."True enough, this composition follows no ecclesiastical or musical rules. But as one who has had the hair on her neck lifted by a dozen electrifying tenors in the "Cujus animas," I have become accustomed that Mary in this setting suggests a Middle Eastern sort of demonstrative grief, rather than understated Nordic self-containment.
Likewise the soprano's "Inflammatus" is the expression of a convert aflame with the testimony of Christianity, not resigned and patient. This and other moments as electrifying make this Stabat Mater an atypical work, not ecclesiastical or clerical. One can readily understand why it was greeted by ecstatic success, being performed in 29 cities during the first year after its publication.
Tunefully as it flows, the piece came to maturity over a rocky road. Despite his decision to compose no more after "William Tell" (1829), in 1831 Rossini was persuaded to compose the Stabat Mater for a Spanish nobleman, who agreed to the stipulation that it should never be published.
Rossini completed six of the movements before being felled by lumbago, whereupon he enlisted the assistance of an old friend and fellow student, Tadolini, who finished the work by the time agreed upon for performance, and kept quiet.
After the noble's death in 1837 his heirs offered the manuscript for publication, which was soon undertaken in Paris. Rossini was able to prevent the 1832 version from being published, subsequently provided four more movements of his own, and allowed publication in 1841.
On an unusual label, with singers of the middle echelons, the present recording is nonetheless an excellent rendering of the piece, charged with spirited vigor and even exhilaration as led by an interesting young conductor. The chorus and orchestra are first rate, often compelling, and immersed in the spirit of the work, which is not one of resignation but of exultation. This setting doesn't emphasize the pity of it all, but rather
RECORD the outrage, and beseeches the admiration of those who contemplate Christ's death.
The soloists are an effective lot, led by soprano Helen Field, whose "Inflammatus" is golden toned and pointed and whose every contribution is nicely poised, yet without being overly careful. Equally thrilling is Arthur Davies' "Cujus animam," like a battle cry that comes to a glorious high ending. Mezzo-soprano Della Jones and bass Roderick Earle are well up to their assignments, though not given such showpieces with which to register.