- Stabat Mater for soloists, chorus, orchestra & organ, in G minor, H. 20bis
Haydn: Stabat Materby Rebel
This release is the first in a series of individual discs extracted from the complete set of Haydn's masses and other large religious works, issued by the Naxos label and performed by New York City's Trinity Choir and the upstate New York Rebel Baroque Orchestra (that's "re-BEL"). The entire ambitious project, in its way something of a milestone for the historical performance movement in the U.S., was the brainchild of the choir's music director, J. Owen Burdick who conducts here. Ensembles specializing in Baroque music can produce rather colorless readings of Haydn and Mozart, but in this hefty "Stabat Mater" setting, among the first big jobs Haydn executed for the Esterházy family, the composer played it safe and created a formal piece in which substantial polyphonic choruses contrast with flowery solo arias and ensembles. The Baroque sound works well here. The choir, about 22 adults strong, produces a warm sound with spot-on intonation, and it is comfortable in its own sonic environment (the album was recorded at Trinity Church). Producer Bettina Covo and engineer Leonard Manchess put the listener almost amidst the musicians and offer a transparent sound that communicates the sober, careful qualities of the work. The choir is semi-professional, providing music for weekly church services but also giving concerts and entering into collaborations elsewhere; the choir can hold its own with European ensembles that are likely much better funded. The weak point here is the collection of soloists, who might work well enough even in the smaller Mozart masses but aren't always up to the virtuoso vocal writing Haydn employs here. Sample the final Paradisi gloria chorus, which calls for a coruscating soprano solo to burst forth from the polyphony but does not receive one. Still, an above-average recording of one of the young Haydn's major choral works. Notes are in English and German, but you have to go online to access the text of the "Stabat Mater," the medieval poem focusing on Mary as she observed the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
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Haydn's setting of the Stabat Mater, which he composed early in his tenure at the Esterhazy court, is one of his more consistently mournful sacred works. Two substantial period-instrument interpretations by Pinnock and Harnoncourt are still available (the Harnoncourt as an import CD). Pinnock's version is perhaps the most powerful, and his stately tempi are significantly slower than either Burdick's or Harnoncourt's. The soloists on the Naxos recording aren't quite up to the level of the singers on the earlier discs, and this performance lacks something of (especially) the Pinnock recording's solemn elegance. But the present version offers its own rewards; the performance is spirited and light on its feet, the textures are more transparent, and the music's dance-like passages are brought out pleasingly.