ROSSINI Stabat Mater
There is bound to be a sense of regret that so musically judicious an account of the first of Rossini’s two great choral masterworks is only now being released. Recorded in concert in 2011 under the auspices of Flemish Opera, it is published as a memorial tribute to its conductor Alberto Zedda, who died earlier this year at the age of 89.
Zedda’s career was an unusual one. Having studied philosophy, he decided on a musical career at a time when his age precluded him from admission to an Italian conservatory. Pester-power, and the fact that the Milan Conservatory was about to lose its only organ student, secured him backdoor admittance to study with Alceo Galliera, whose organ teaching was itself already taking second place to a career in international conducting.
Zedda, too, took up conducting, a move that led him into a potentially ruinous confrontation with the publishing house Ricordi over what he claimed were the company’s mistake-laden hire parts for Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia. By the time of the Rossini centenary in 1968, the spat had been resolved, a new edition had been prepared by Zedda and a complete Rossini Edition inaugurated by Ricordi, with Zedda joining Bruno Cagli and the brilliant young American scholar Philip Gossett (who sadly also died earlier this year) on its editorial board.
Though Zedda was a man of seemingly inexhaustible energy, even in his ninth decade, his reading of the Stabat mater has a wise-old-man quality about it: solid, certain of touch, appropriately dark-hued. There is no rush; yet nothing lingers either. The fact is, Zedda was one of the few people on the planet who understood that in setting the Stabat mater, Rossini was creating a sacred work shaped from materials – structural forms, melodic profiles, types of orchestration – that you will look for in vain in his operas. How easy it is to enter a room when you have the right key.
Given that Zedda knew where the rising talent was, his solo quartet is both Rossini-literate and distinguished without being conventionally starry. The recording has the soloists rather to the fore. This is no bad thing, though it occasionally disadvantages the mezzo with her quick vibrato. The excellent chorus is well caught, shading towards the rear when required, yet nicely forward in the two lovely a cappella movements.
After what seemed like a lifetime’s wait, the Stabat mater finally received an exemplary recording in 2010. Conducted by Antonio Pappano and with Netrebko and DiDonato leading the solo quartet, this Rome recording probably remains hors concours. Nonetheless, Alberto Zedda’s performance is possessed of a quality of quiet understanding that will give special satisfaction to any Rossinian who truly knows and loves this work.