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Together with the Missa Cellensis, the Stabat Mater was one of the first sacred works that Haydn composed in his new position as Kapellmeister of the EsterhAzy court. The Virgin Mary' vast range of emotions during the Crucifixion are reflected in Hay
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When I heard the Missa Cellensis, I was struck by the joyful, ceremonial, and almost dance like character of Haydn's setting and by the expansive nature of the work. I thought the tone of the work conveyed something important and valuable about Haydn's attitude towards religion. The nature of the medieval Stabat Mater poem, which describes Mary grieving and weeping at the Crucifixion, together with the CD liner notes, led me to expect that Haydn would provide a more somber treatment of this text. Haydn does so, but not in the way I expected.
The Stabat Mater is an angular work scored for strings, oboe, and organ. Thus it differs from the lavishly orchestrated Missa Cellensis which includes and uses extensively flutes, oboes, bassoons, trumpet and tympani. The mass includes large, complex choruses and fugues, trumpet fanfares, and radiant lyrical solos. The sections of the Stabat Mater tend much more to the minor key and are slower in tempo. The setting is, to that degree, more solemn than the mass. However, there is nothing ponderous or morose in Haydn's music.
Haydn's Stabat Mater still impressed me as a serenely positive work which minimized the tragic, somber character of the text and the scene. There is a continued flow and lyricism to the music which honors the text but adds its own dimension. Although Haydn's setting was popular in his day, it was sometime criticized for not being sufficiently serious. The setting has an extroverted songlike character. In many places, especially in the extended pieces for solo voice, the work seemed to be operatic.
The setting is in twelve parts even though most recordings divide two sections for a total of 14 tracks. The orchestra and the four soloists predominate most of the time over the chorus. In this recording the soloists are drawn from the membership of the Trinity Choir. Soprano Ann Hoyt, alto Luthien Brackett, tenor Stephen Sands and bass Richard Lippold deserve credit for their performances. The work has several solos and ensemble pieces for bass in particular, and Lippold was a standout. The chorus gives a solemn rendition of the only section of the work in which it performs without soloists: the tragic "Eja Mater, fons amoris" at the mid point of the piece. The extended setting of "Sancta Mater, istud agas" features a four part, elaborate fugue for each of the four soloists and the chorus. The final section "Paradisi gloria" also is fugual and involves the entire ensemble, chorus and soloists. It brings the work to a triumphal, radiant close which may be in some tension with the text.
The performance on this CD is spirited. For me the Stabat Mater is a somewhat less effective work than the Missa Cellensis, which I thought an exhuberantly masterful, little-known work of early Haydn. The Stabat Mater will reward hearing even though the setting of the text is somewhat surprising. I am looking forward to listening to the rest of the Haydn masses performed by the Trinity Choir and the REBEL Baroque Orchestra.
Total time: 57:21
The sound technology is alos far superior on this more recent Naxos CD. Voices and instruments both sound realistically "present", right in your living room as they say. The balance of soloists and instruments is just right. This difference alone would be enough to justify preferring the Trinity Choir disk to the Christ Church Cathedral one, since the latter sounds dull and muffled after hearing the former.
The soloists are surprisingly on a par, except for one. I say surprising, because the English recording includes some well-established professionals while the New York based Trinity Choir draws soloists from its own ranks of semi-pro and amateur singers. The exception is soprano Ann Hoyt, who is both better and worse than her Christ Church Oxford counterpart. Her phrasing and ornamentation are better ... much better, much more spirited and expressive ... but her tuning is often unfortunate. Her shortcomings are the reason for my reluctance to give this performance a full five-star rave.
And then there are the two choirs ... Large choirs are extremely difficult to record, even when they sing with the finest imaginable ensemble. Both choirs sound murky to my ears, but then, honestly, almost every choral recording sounds murky to me. The Trinity Choir has a hard time with consistent Latin diction; they often sound jarringly "American" and they don't quite hit their attacks as uniformly as I might wish.
You'll hear echoes of all the earlier masterful Baroque settings of the Stabat Mater - by Vivaldi, both Scarlattis, Pergolesi, Bononcini, and Boccherini - in this imperial Stabat Mater by Joseph Haydn. Rightly known more for his symphonies and quartets than for his vocal music, Haydn composed this Stabat on a large orchestral plan, and it's the orchestral music that excels. Honestly, the dolorous intimacy of the earlier settings - the empathy for suffering - is absent from Haydn's grand and stately declamation of the Medieval Latin poem about the agony of the Mother at the death of the Son. The religious sentiments of the late Enlightenment were more social than personal.
Here's my current survey of the best performances of Stabat Mater settings of the 18th Century. You'll find my recommendations in reviews of:
1. Vivaldi - Stabat Mater - Ensemble 415
2. A. Scarlatti - Stabat Mater - Il Seminario Musicale
3. Pergolesi - Stabat Mater - Il Seminario Musicale
4. Caldara - Stabat Mater - Aura Musicale & Coro della Radio Svizzera Italiana
5. Boccherini - Stabat Mater - Ensemble 415
6. Domenico Scarlatti - Concerto Italiano
7. Giovanni Felice Sances - Philippe Jaroussky with Ens. Artaserse (CD: Beata Vergine)