The Stabat Mater is the most intimate of the major liturgical texts, and Dvorák balances the scale of his conception with restraint in the actual word-setting and in the purely expressive impact. The substantial opening section seems to draw on Mozarts Requiem, while anticipating that of Verdi, in its forthright lamentation, classically rendered. The musics thrice circling toward resolution, only to be brusquely denied, provides a ground-plan upon which Marys contemplation of the crucified Jesus is conveyed with keen emotional intensity.
Perhaps nothing in the remainder could have hoped to maintain the expressive depth of these first 20 minutes. In the event, Dvorák divides the text into a further nine movements, moving between combinations of soloists, with and without chorus. The vocal quartet at Quis est homo has a dignified pathos, while the chorus at Eja, mater has an almost operatic momentum recalling Rossinis setting of the text a generation earlier. Thereafter, the work rather loses dramatic focus: the tenor solo at Fac me vere is little more than perfunctory, while the mezzo solo at Inflammatus et accensus has a neo-Baroque stolidity that must have sounded archaic back in 1880 (only Bruckners early Requiem outdoes it in this respect).
With the final movement, Quando corpus morietur, the music opening up impressively in the switch to the major at Paradisi gloria, and the joyous release of the crowning Amen is enhanced by the hushed orchestral postlude as the text contemplates the ultimate attainment of paradise. Dvoráks sacred music was never to match these closing minutes in their sustained sincerity of expression.
There can be little but praise for Dagmar Pecková and (standing in at short notice for Eva Urbanová) Janice Watson, whose blissful contribution at Fac, ut portem was balm to the ears. Not so Valentin Prolat, whose nervy, tremulous tenor gave scant pleasure, while Peter Mikuláss purposeful and idiomatic bass underwhelmed at Fac, un ardeat. The London Symphony Chorus was on customary excellent form - the works one-time popularity with choral societies owes much to its singability - while the LSO made a good showing in music rich in passing incident. A welcome return for Jiri Belohlávek, whose persuasive, unfussy direction gave coherence to the works 84-minute span - sensibly performed without an interval.
If not quite a work that transcends its era, Dvoráks Stabat Mater is an absorbing and sometimes moving statement, from a time when the reality of death could still be outweighed by the promise of life to come.
- The next LSO/Barbican concert in Bohemian Spring is this Wednesday, 7 March at 7.30, when Jiri Belohlavek talks about and conducts Janaceks The Fiddlers Child and Sinfonietta in a LSO Discovery Concert
- On Thursday, 8 March at 7.30, these two Janacek scores form part two of a concert also including Suks Fantastic Scherzo and Dvoraks Violin Concerto with Sarah Chang
- Box Office 020 7638 8891
- Book Online www.lso.co.uk
- Colin Anderson previews Bohemian Spring