DVORÁK: Stabat Mater
No single person has done more to elevate the art of choral music in this country than the late, and great, Robert Shaw. And his musical valediction, recorded but a few months before his death January 25, 1999, is his first recording of Dvorák's Stabat Mater.
Surprisingly for a conductor who has recorded practically every major (and minor) choral masterpiece, often many times over, Shaw had never performed the Dvorák until the 1998 Atlanta Symphony Orchestra concerts prior to this recording. In a conversation with National Public Radio's Martin Goldsmith (filling out the second CD), Shaw was asked why he hadn't conducted it. He responded by saying that during his first years in Atlanta he was so busy preparing orchestral repertoire he had to feature those choral works he knew.
Another question concerned reasons for the work's neglect. Shaw's answer was that the work requires operatic-like big solo voices that can also blend, and first-class woodwind soloists. Although the notes for the chorus are not difficult, he adds, enunciation and sudden dynamic changes are. Needless to say, the musical requirements are firmly in place thanks to the fine vocal quartet listed above -- along with the responsive Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.
A few notes about the work after this reviewer's first hearing. Dvorák often takes a short 5-7 note theme, tosses it back and forth between soloists and orchestra, repeats it often in sequence, adding bits of counterpoint and chromatics. The choruses range from the exalted ("Paradisi gloria") to simple folk-like hymns. There are glimmers of Verdi and, in the final "Amen," Handel. Sometimes the music doesn't fit the text such as the lilting score for "Cause me to bear the death of Christ." This is an album worthy of more than casual listening. Recommended.
K.S. (Nov. 1999)