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Rossini – Stabat Mater

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment / Mark Elder


Sandra Radvanovsky – soprano

Anne-Marie Owens – mezzo-soprano

Charles Castronovo - tenor

Jonathan Lemalu - bass

London Symphony Chorus


Stabat Mater is a thirteenth century poem, attributed to Jacopone da Todi meditating not only on the drama of the saviour of the Christian world sacrificing his life in atonement of an ancient sin, but more particularly on the personal drama of a mother standing by helplessly whilst witnessing her own son's last agonies. It has an immediacy of appeal which has won enduring popularity and there are more than 600 known settings. *


Rossini's is one of the grandest and most powerful. It is in no way an opera, but it does have a good measure of theatricality about it and Mark Elder, demonstrating once again just how fine a conductor he is, achieved just the right balance between drama and prayer.


The scene is set by the chorus, and the first soloist to come in is the tenor with Cujus animam and a wonderfully swinging tune, all too easy to get carried away with. Charles Castronovo put sincerity first, all the big notes were there, but he never let the music swamp the words.


Next there is a duet for soprano and mezzo-soprano. Both singers were replacements for those originally advertised, with Anne-Marie Owens stepping in at very short notice, but her rich mezzo has a maternal warmth which is just perfect for this piece. There's a rather thrilling steely core to Sandra Radvanovsky's soprano; if only her words had been clearer, she would have delivered a really cutting edge performance.


No such problems with the bass Jonathan Lemalu, whose diction is exemplary. A fine aria; then, whilst the orchestra remained silent, an even better recitative with chorus.


The quartet Sancta Maria was nicely balanced, after which Anne-Marie Owens returned for a beautifully controlled cavatina – sharing and asking “to take to herself the pain”.


“My heart inflamed and burning” are the next words given to the soprano – I couldn't hear them, but probably didn't need to, as emotion was flowing freely by then, whilst the chorus punched out “shield me from the Judgement Day”

Back to the unaccompanied chorus (the London Symphony Chorus on top form) just floating us towards Paradise, until the kettle drums burst in and we heard the great double fugue finale – Amen – to which Rossini dramatically added the words “in sempiterna saecula “(in all eternity).


After an essential moment or two of silence the thunderous applause almost took the roof off the Hall. Fantastic ... even in retrospect the memory glows … would that it had been recorded.


Serena Fenwick





© Peter Grahame Woolf