Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Universal tragedy on a tiny dramatic stage

Luigi Boccherini: Stabat Mater

The 13th Century poem on which the Stabat Mater is based is really extraordinary. It's a sad and beautiful contemplation of Christ's crucifixion by Mary, probably written by Jacopone da Todi (1230-1306). Setting this solemn text to music provides emotional opportunities, though in a limited dramatic range due to its personal devotional character. This is a universal human tragedy with the most important themes, but in a tiny dramatic space. The great international fame of Pergolesi's Stabat Mater setting in the first half of the 1700s was due, I think, to this intensely personal character of both text and music. Boccherini's setting, from 1781, was written for soprano and a string quintet. The chamber quality and its highly emotional writing place it under Pergolesi's influence. Though the composer produced a new version with more complex scoring and additional material, the original one is my favourite, due to this intimacy and numinous character.

Here is the hopeful final verse of the Boccherini's, the Quando corpus.
Quando corpus morietur,
fac, ut animae donetur
paradisi gloria. Amen. 
While my body here decays,
may my soul Thy goodness praise,
safe in paradise with Thee. Amen.

The musicians on the present disc give an inspired performance of the work. Soprano Dorothee Mields has a warm and sweet sound that emerges in an open and unforced manner; she navigates the dramatic, virtuoso passages without undermining the intimate effect. The enhanced Salagon Quartett provide sensitive support. I actually preferred their playing in the Boccherini to their Mozart String Quartet K. 428, which I thought was a trifle under-characterized. The slight Salve Regina by the teen-aged Mendelssohn is a nice bonus; it's an accomplished piece, though without the emotional complexity of the other two works.

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