DVORÁK:  Stabat Mater
Marina Zvetkova, soprano; Ruxandra Donose, mezzo-soprano; Johan Botha, tenor; Roberto Scandiuzzi, bass; Dresden State Opera Chorus and Orchestra/Giuseppe Sinopoli, cond.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 471 033 (2 CDs) (DDD) TT:  54:27 & 33:07

Between Dvorák's first sketches of Stabat Mater in February 1876, following the death of his two-day-old second child, and its completion in November 1877, two more of his children died. This did not, however, result in music of personalized sorrow; the Verdi Messa da Requiem was still new, but an extended tenor solo in Part 6 ("Fac me vere tecum flere") certainly brings Verdi's "Ingemisco" to mind. There are other thumbprints, not unusual considering the Verdian repertory Dvorák played for nine years as a violist in Prague's Provisional Opera Orchestra. Rossini's Stabat Mater likewise lurks in the wings, along with those Victorian choral machines by Mendelssohn (Elijah and Paulus), which may account for the popularity of Dvorák’s Stabat Mater in England, where he was welcomed repeatedly with open arms and warm hearts.

The catalog does not want for performances: Talich, Kubelik, Belohlávik (twice, most recently on Chandos) and Macal (on Delos) are or were native-Czech advocates; Sawallisch and Rilling add a Germanic enthusiasm. Now comes this highly-charged performance from Dresden, recorded in the rebuilt Staatsoper almost exactly a year before Giuseppe Sinopoli died in Berlin (on April 20, 2001), conducting the third act of Aida. Not unexpectedly, he has taken an interpretive cue from Verdi, and makes an especially powerful case for his option in the long (and best) opening section, "Stabat Mater dolorosa." Although a sonorous bass soloist is the only name I recognized, Johan Botha proves to be an ardent singer in the tenore di forza tradition of Sándor Kónya and János B. Nagy. The lyric soprano is charming (if that's an permissible adjective in the context of Golgotha), with a tolerable contralto partner—not for operatic roles, perhaps, but this isn't an opera despite the conductor's bias.

The Dresden Staatskapelle continues to be one of Europe's elite orchestras, and the Saxon State Opera Chorus makes up in tonal strength what it sometimes shades pitch-wise—in the concluding "Amen" especially. Not as likeable, however, is the beefy sound of a "live" performance, muddied by reverb. DGG's production team has traded off too much detail, orchestral and choral alike, for mass effects (sorry, no pun meant). It smacks of Madison Square Garden near the Hudson River, not the Semperoper redivivus on the Elbe.

R.D. (Aug. 2002)