Philharmonia Field Mass

Field Mass
Stabat Mater

Sally Matthews (soprano)
Dagmar Pecková (mezzo-soprano)
Paul Charles Clarke (tenor)
Neal Davies (baritone)

London Symphony Chorus

Philharmonia Orchestra
Richard Hickox

Reviewed by: Hayden Jones

Reviewed: 23 November, 2004
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

With perfectly blended ensemble these choral works of Martinů and Dvořák had a sensitive advocate in Richard Hickox.

Martinů’s Field Mass was written in Paris in 1939. The tragic events leading up to the destruction of the democratic Czechoslovak Republic by the Nazis in 1938 and the outbreak of World War Two shortly after compelled Martinů and his wife to take up voluntary service. But Martinů was considered too old for this and instead turned his attention to writing something for “our lads in the camps … a work that they could perform and one they know to be written especially for them…”. The work is written for an unusual combination of instruments including piano, harmonium, percussion, piccolos, clarinets, trumpets and trombones – instruments that would have been readily available in a military band (though I’m curious to see a military band with a harmonium in tow!). The members of the Philharmonia Orchestra and the men of the London Symphony Chorus gave a highly concentrated performance, with pinpoint intonation and rhythmic accuracy from all concerned. Neal Davies gave a strong performance, too, with his forceful tone, though his voice did lack the lyricism that is preferable in this piece. An otherwise perfectly blended Chorus was let down in the closing pages by a tenor who sang too loud and eventually lost intonation in the final quiet, sustained ‘Amen’. Otherwise, a fully committed performance.

From darkness to light is an apt way to describe Dvořák’s Stabat Mater and also a fitting description of this performance. Bass Alastair Miles was indisposed so baritone Neal Davies stayed on to take his place. His performance along with the other soloists was exemplary: Sally Matthews’s soaring soprano blended beautifully with Paul Charles Clarke’s crisp tenor in the “Fac ut portem”, their interwoven melodic lines sung with total conviction and grace. Dagmar Pecková was the most dramatic and operatic of the soloists – her solo “Inflammatus et accensus” was mesmerising: her dark, richly expressive voice conveying true passion. Hickox’s interpretation was deeply felt and he swept the silky-smooth Philharmonia and LS Chorus along with devotion. The performance gained momentum and emotion with every movement and culminated in the ethereal beauty and hushed optimism of the final ‘Amen’.

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