Te Deum, Op.103
Stabat Mater, Op.58
Janice Watson (soprano), Dagmar Peckova (mezzo-soprano), Peter Auty (tenor) & Peter Rose (bass)
London Philharmonic Choir
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Graham Rogers
Reviewed: 9 October, 2010
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
Following their success last year with Dvořák’s “Requiem” – a welcome chance to hear a substantial but neglected work, subsequently issued on LPO Live – Neeme Järvi and the London Philharmonic presented two better-known choral works in this Royal Festival Hall concert. The moving “Stabat Mater” and jubilant “Te Deum” are, respectively, the first and last of Dvořák’s surviving sacred choral output, and the pairing made for a satisfying programme.
“Stabat Mater”, a major work of around 80 minutes combining soaring Verdian vocal lines and rich Brahmsian orchestration, is laden with poignancy (it was written during 1876 and 1877, during which period the Dvořáks lost three children to tragic early deaths). Järvi clearly has great respect and affinity for the score, and the LPO responded with some outstandingly beautiful playing – nowhere more so than in the intense, sweeping violin melodies of the sorrowful ‘Quis est homo’ and the exquisite bittersweet quality of ‘Fac ut ardeat’. Woodwind and brass shone too. From the plaintive orchestral opening through the solemn march-like tread of ‘Eia, mater’ and the gently uplifting ‘Tui nati vulnerati’, Järvi crafted captivatingly long melodic lines, imbuing the score with a sense of flow and homogeneity.
The London Philharmonic Choir was on fine form, impressively unanimous in moments of both subtle intimacy and full-throated might – the magnificent a cappella passage towards the very end of the work was spine-tingling. Peter Rose was appropriately stentorian in his ‘Fac ut ardeat’ solo; Peter Auty came across as a touch strained in ‘Fac me vere tacum flere’, but he was a sensitive partner for the ravishingly creamy-voiced Janice Watson in ‘Fac ut portem Christi mortem’. The positioning of the four soloists at the back of the orchestra, in front of the chorus, lead to occasional balance problems, the biggest casualty being the barely audible mezzo-soprano solo in ‘Inflammatus et accensus’ (sung by Dagmar Peckova, standing in for the indisposed Sara Fulgoni).
“Te Deum” provided a rousing start to the evening – a 20-minute celebratory work intended for the 400th Columbus Day festivities in America at the time of Dvořák’s first trip across the Atlantic in 1892. Less musically inspired than “Stabat Mater”, the barrage of thundering timpani, crashing cymbals, bombastic brass and tinkling triangle in the work’s opening and closing sections nevertheless pack an impressive punch. The lack of spontaneity in Järvi’s approach was more apparent here than in “Stabat Mater”, however – the pomp needed more sparkle, and the scherzo-like ‘Aeterna fac cum Sanctis’ was stubbornly earthbound – but elsewhere we were able to savour the beauty of Dvořák’s mature nationalistic style. Peter Rose was resplendent in ‘Tu rex gloriae’, and Janice Watson’s sumptuous solos were a delight – especially ‘Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus’, with its gently gambling woodwind solos and hushed male chorus intoning.
The swathes of microphones no doubt indicate that these performances will soon join “Requiem” on commercial release; it would certainly be a pleasure to hear them again, particularly the powerfully affecting account of “Stabat Mater”.