DVOŘÁK Stabat Mater
New recordings of Dvořák’s grief-riven Stabat mater (1877) come along quite regularly nowadays. Philippe Herreweghe’s refreshingly splendid 2013 disc for his own label, featuring Collegium Vocale Gent and the Royal Flemish Philharmonic, was followed by Mariss Jansons’s live recording, taped in Munich, both interpretations notable for their warm, glowing choral contributions and impressive solo quartets.
This new release is Jiří Bělohávek’s third commercial recording of the work: the first was with the Czech Philharmonic for Chandos in 1991 (2/92), the second for Supraphon 20 years ago. His relaxed though steadfast approach is immediately apparent in the substantial first movement (marked Andante con moto), which weighs in at just under 20 minutes, a much slower tempo than Herreweghe and substantially slower than Dvořák’s metronome marking of minim=76. Whereas Jansons and Herreweghe’s recordings comfortably fit on a single disc, Bělohávek spills over on to a second.
Although the Prague Philharmonic Choir’s contributions are disciplined and impassioned, their Germanic Latin is not matched by sufficient clarity in the hard consonants (especially the letter ‘T’ in the ‘Tui nati vulnerati’ movement). The same criticism cannot be levelled at the solo quartet, who are uniformly superb. What a joy it is to hear the 2015 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Song Prize winner, the bass soloist Jongmin Park, making the most of the Brahmsian ‘Fac me vere tecum flere’. Even more memorable is soprano Eri Nakamura’s radiant duet (‘Fac ut portem Christi mortem’) with Michael Spyres at his most lyrical. Bělohávek perfectly judges the delicate balance between singers and orchestra.
On balance, although there are many lovely, mellow things on this new recording, Herreweghe – with his slightly more dramatic interpretation – would remain my top choice.