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A Small but Holy Treasure

New York
Isaac Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall
04/30/2011 -  
Antonin Dvorák: Stabat Mater, opus 58
Angela Meade (Soprano), Tamara Mumford (Mezzo-soprano), Yeghishe Manucharyan (Tenor), Burak Bilgili (Bass)
New York Choral Society, Brooklyn Philharmonic, John Daly Goodwin (Music Director and Conductor)

J.D. Goodwin (©New York Choral Society)

Brahms’ Requiem and Dvořák’s Stabat Mater should have little in common. They were written 20 years apart, Brahms was probably agnostic, while Dvorák was a committed Catholic. The words of the Requiem are from the Bible, while Stabat Mater is from a 13th Century poem by the Franciscan Jacopone da Todi.

On the personal side, Brahms composed his Requiem as a musical commitment. Dvořák wrote the Stabat Mater after the death of several of his children.

From a first hearing of the Stabat Mater this afternoon, two similarities are striking. One is the musical language. Dvořák was still not ready to declare his Czech singularity, so the two used the same harmonic language. More important, both the Stabat Mater and the German Requiem have an emotional equilibrium, a sense not of resignation nor of terror, but of comfort.

Brahms’ comfort is of the earth, Dvořák’s is the comfort from experiencing pain–the agony of the composer and the Mother of Jesus in the poem.

Perhaps through familiarity, the Brahms Requiem seems more musically developed. But, through studying the score and hearing the lovely tones of the New York Choral Society and Brooklyn Philharmonic under John Daly Goodwin, one begins to appreciate this rare Dvořák work.

Mr Goodwin’s interpretation was more serene than broad, but serenity has its rewards. The Brooklyn Philharmonic did not fail on the lovely D-major chords at the finale, while the long introductions of all the movements were played with some tenderness. Granted, little vitality was shown in those rare cases when necessary. The seventh movement Virgo,. Virginum praeclara has some modulations and twists that were underplayed. But it was a very acceptable sound.

A. Meade (©Devon Cass)

The soloists were mostly reverent and of fine voice. Soprano Angela Meade has the grace and purity needed throughout, while bass Burak Bilgili gave a glowing flowing account.

Mezzo Tamara Mumford was more than adequate, though in the Inflammatus, one needs perhaps more weighty voice. Tenor Yeghishe Manucharyan has a strong voice, but he seemed far too operatic and rarely changed his volume when the score called for it, but was quite substantial.

The New York Choral Society is a large group, but they had some beautiful moments. Here were ethereal murmurs from the women in Sancta mater–Holy Mother–and the powerful ending of the work. The fifth section, where their lines were fused against the orchestral triplets, showed their prowess.

Honestly, I’m not convinced that resurrecting the Stabat Mater is of first priority. It lacks Dvorák’s outwardness, his charm, his singing. Nor can I think of any moments in the Stabat Mater which I would trade for Dvorák’s finest vocal offerings

But give credit where it’s due. The Stabat Mater was a historical landmark, bringing the composer to the attention of Europe. The audience this afternoon was in raptures, the musicians performed admirably, and perhaps any unearthed music from Dvorák is a small treasure.

Harry Rolnick



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