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Luigi BOCCHERINI & Franz Joseph HAYDN: Stabat mater

[I] Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732 - 1809): Stabat mater (H XXa,1)
Sarah Wegener, soprano; Marie Henriette Reinhold, contralto; Colin Balzer, tenor; Sebastian Noack, bass
Kammerchor Stuttgart; Hofkapelle Stuttgart
Dir: Frieder Bernius
rec: April 5 - 7, 2017, Reutlingen-Gönningen, Evangelische Kirche
Carus - 83.281 (© 2018) (59'58")
Liner-notes: E (abridged)/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

[KS] Manuela Eichenlaub, Konstanze Fladt, Carolin Franke, Johanna Gauss, Helena Schneider, Annika Stegger, Alexa Vogel, Aline Wilhelmy, soprano; Carolina große Darrelmann, Elke Rutz, Agnes Schmauder, Nora Steuerwald, contralto; Friedemann Engelbert, Tobias Hechler, Adam Schilling, alto; Jo Holzwarth, Tobias Mäthger, Tobias Meyer, Bruno Michalke, Marc-Eric Schmidt, Friedrich Spieser, tenor; Emanuel Fluck, Nikolaus Fluck, Antonio Di Martino, Adolph Seidel, Marcus Stäbler, bass
[HS] Susanne Regel, Shai Kribus, Claire Sirjacobs, oboe; Rhoda Patrick, bassoon; Peter Barczi, Ulrike Cramer, Martin Jopp, Dietlind Mayer, Annette Schäfer-Teuffel, Claudia Schneider, Margret Baumgartl, Dorothee Mühleisen, Miriam Risch-Graulich, Elfriede Stahmer, Helmut Winkel, violin; Annette Schmidt, Thomas Gehring, Hiltrud Hampe, Christine Sauer-Lieb, viola; Christoph Harer, Kristin King-Dom, Stefan Kraut, cello; Tobias Lampelzammer, Christian Berghoff-Flüel, double bass; Bernward Lohr, organ

[II] Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743 - 1805): Stabat mater (G 532)
Magali Léger, sopranoa
Ensemble Rosasolis
rec: April 18 - 22, 2016, Fontmorigny (F), Abbaye
Musica Ficta - MF8026 (© 2017) (59'40")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover, track-list & booklet
Score Stabat mater

Quintet in c minor, op. 45,1 (G 355); Stabat mater (G 532)a

Guillaume Humbrecht, Marieke Bouche, violin; Géraldine Roux, viola; Nicolas Crnjanski, Jean-Christophe Marq, cello; Julie Blais, organ

The Stabat mater is one of the most frequently set texts in the history of music. Numerous composers of the renaissance and baroque eras have written music to this text about Mary watching her Son suffering on the cross. It has been given various functions in Roman Catholic liturgy, as a sequence, a hymn and an antiphon. At the end of the 15th century it became part of the Feast of the Compassion of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a celebration which was instigated by the Council of Cologne in 1423. The Council of Trent (1545-1563) removed it from the liturgy. However, the fact that the Stabat mater wasn't part of the liturgy didn't prevent composers from writing music on this text, mostly for private use, for instance the celebrations of the fraternities which existed in Italy since the Middle Ages. It was on the orders of Pope Benedict XII in 1727 that the Stabat mater was again included in the liturgy. It became a part of the Feast of the Seven Sorrows.

The best-known setting from the renaissance is probably the one by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. The most famous setting of all times is undoubtedly the Stabat mater from the pen of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, which is frequently performed every year across the globe and has been recorded many times. In comparison the settings by Joseph Haydn and Luigi Boccherini are far lesser known.

Haydn is not associated with sacred music in the first place. Some of his masses are fairly well-known - although not that often performed - but date from late in his career. The Stabat mater is his first large-scale sacred work and dates from 1767. It was the result of his taking over the responsibility for the composition of sacred music at the Esterházy court, after the death of Gregor Joseph Werner the previous year. The first performance probably took place on Good Friday, 17 April 1767, in the chapel in Eisenstadt. The next year it may have been performed in Vienna, at the instigation of Johann Adolf Hasse, who was in the service of the imperial court and had expressed "indescribable praise" for Haydn's Stabat mater. The first documented performance in Vienna took place in 1771, again on Good Friday as part of the Vesper service, under Hayd's own direction. Since then it was performed frequently until at least 1783. It was also copied many times; more than 40 copies from the time before 1790 have come down to us. It was not only performed within a liturgical framework, but also in public concerts.

The scoring is for four solo voices, four-part choir and an orchestra of strings, two oboes/English horns and basso continuo. The work is divided into fourteen sections, either for solo voice(s) or for choir, or for soli and choir. According to Clemens Harasim, who is responsible for the edition on which Frieder Bernius's recording is based, and who also wrote the liner-notes, "[the] overwhelming majority of the extant parts make it clear that the soloists should also sing the entire choral parts with the exception of a few notes, where they have different pitches." This practice has not been followed in the recording. Harasim also mentions that the figured bass part is usually designated "Organo o Cembalo". He suggests that the latter was added because of a wide-spread tradition that the organ kept silent on Good Friday, but also for the sake of performances in venues where no organ was available. Here only an organ is used.

I have heard Haydn's Stabat mater only a few times before. The present recording is the first I had the chance to listen to for reviewing purposes. Having done so, I find it hard to understand that it is so seldom performed and recorded. It has all the qualities to justify regular performances. We could probably do with fewer performances of Pergolesi's Stabat mater and should have more chances to hear Haydn's setting. It is a wonderful piece which one can also enjoy at other periods of the year. Harasim rightly points out that "all the movements are pervaded by a sense of optimism and a bright underlying mood in view of the certainty of Jesus's sacrificial death, crowned by the radiant, almost majestically jubilant closing fugue "Paradisi gloria"." It includes some very fine arias, such as 'O quam tristis', which receives a sensitive interpretation by Marie Henriette Reinhold. Sarah Wegener does very well in 'Quis non posset contristari', and the scourging of Jesus is vividly depicted by Sebastian Noack and the choir in 'Pro peccatis'. Noack uses a little too much vibrato, but his performances are very expressive, also in 'Flammis orci'. Colin Balzer is excellent, in the opening section and also in 'Fac me cruce'. The soloists blend perfectly in 'Virgo virginum'. Transparency, flexibility and dynamic differentiation are features of the choral sections. The playing of the orchestra is colourful and balanced. In short, this is an almost perfect performance of what has to be considered a masterpiece.

Fourteen years after Haydn, in 1781, Boccherini composed his setting of the Stabat mater. At that time he was in the service of Infante Don Luis Antonio, brother of King Charles III of Spain. He had a string quartet as his disposal and with Boccherini a virtuosic cellist entered his service who could join them. This resulted in a large number of string quintets with two cello parts, one of which was to be played by Boccherini himself. The concentration on chamber music even increased when his employer had to leave Madrid and settled in a small town, Las Arenas de San Pedro, in 1776, because he had married below his standing.

The scoring for soprano and string quintet suggests that is was written for a performance by the Infante's musicians. Boccherini's wife, Clementina Pellicia, was a soprano and it is plausible to assume that she was to sing the solo part. The two lowest string parts were for two cellos or for cello and double bass. The former is the scoring in this recording. Here an organ has been added for the harmonic realization, although that is not specifically indicated in the score. The scoring and the surroundings in which this setting was to be performed explains its rather intimate and introspective character. It is not so strongly influenced by opera as Pergolesi's Stabat mater, and there are far less striking depictions of the text. Pergolesi, for instance, illustrates the scourging of Jesus in the string parts. That is not the case here. The solo part is also more embedded into the string texture. This justifies the rather restrained approach in this performance. That said, the emotions of the text are certainly expressed in Boccherini's setting, and I think that this aspect is not fully explored by Magali Léger. Her singing is excellent, but her performance lacks a bit of expression. Therefore I prefer the recent recording by Dorothee Mields.

As the Stabat mater is a relatively short work, additional music is needed. The most logical option is a string quintet; the Ensemble Rosasolis selected a relatively little-known piece from the large corpus of string quintets in Boccherini's oeuvre. The Quintet in c minor, op. 45,1 has the nickname 'Opera grande'. It was written in 1792; at that time Boccherini was in the service of King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia. In 1804 it was printed, together with three further quintets and a symphony, by Pleyel. It has clear symphonic traits, partly due to the complete independence of the two lowest parts. That is reflected by the performance: here the ensemble's approach is bolder and more extroverted. It seems likely that this work is recorded here for the first time. That is a good argument for Boccherini lovers to add this disc to their collection, even if it already includes one or several recordings of the Stabat mater.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

Relevant links:

Magali Léger
Sebastian Noack
Marie Henriette Reinhold
Sarah Wegener
Kammerchor Stuttgart
Hofkapelle Stuttgart

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