Review: Dvorak’s Stabat Mater, Leeds Town Hall , Saturday, March 16, 2019
THE 13th century Latin poem Stabat Mater (Sorrowful Mother) imagines the sorrow of Mary, Mother of the dying Jesus, during her vigil at the foot of his Cross.
Of the many musical settings of the Stabat Mater, those by Rossini and Dvorak are constructed on the grandest scale. Both require large orchestral and choral forces, plus a quartet of vocal soloists. Rossini’s hour-long Stabat Mater has the exciting verve and mood changes of Italian opera. Dvorak’s was born of grief for the deaths in infancy of three of his children. This gives his setting a prevailing mood of sadness, though the style of writing (particularly for the soloists) is equally operatic. Given its ninety minutes running time, Dvorak’s Stabat Mater normally occupies an entire concert. In this respect, last Saturday’s fine performance conducted by David Hill was no exception. A pity that the audience was miniscule compared to a capacity house for the Oslo Philharmonic a week earlier. [Note the weather was atrocious though]
David Hill’s pacing and dynamic shading allowed this epic work to unfold in luminous orchestral and vocal detail. Balance was generally excellent between the seventy members of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, the organ, Leeds Philharmonic Chorus and St Peter’s Singers – 140 voices singing with consoling warmth and supple power. A carefully blended solo quartet surmounted the vocal challenges inherent in both the ensemble singing and the solo arias. Soprano Elizabeth Atherton soared with beauty and clarity above the orchestral textures. The mellowed timbre of mezzo Catherine Wyn-Rogers, the startling tonal purity of tenor Sam Furness, and the soft-grained bass Wojtek Gierlach all contributed to a performance of powerful emotional impact.