Selfless Playing of High Integrity from Bavarian Radio Orchestra

GermanyGermany  Antonín Dvořák:  Erin Wall (soprano), Mihoko Fujimura (mezzo), Christian Elsner (tenor), Liang Li (bass), Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks / Mariss Jansons (conductor), Herkulessaal, Munich, 24.3.2015. (MC)

Mariss Jansons, © photo George Thum
Mariss Jansons © George Thum

Dvořák: ‘Stabat mater’ for soloists, choir and orchestra, Op. 58 (1876/77)


Each season I attend a couple of concerts by the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, all have been under its great chief conductor Mariss Jansons. Whilst remaining fascinated by the history of the Berliner Philharmoniker, an orchestra that I also strive hard to see perform, the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks holds a special attraction for me with its remarkable individual sound of precision, power and expression. Performed in the wonderful acoustic of the Herkulessaal, Munich the Dvořák Stabat mater more than lived up to its promise as Maestro Jansons and his soloists, Bavarian choral and orchestral forces made a splendid case for this inexplicably neglected score.

Tragedy had hit Dvořák hard with the death of his two day old daughter Josefa in 1875, and the next year his two surviving children, Ružena and Otakar, died from poisoning and smallpox respectively. In view of his severe personal torments it comes as no surprise that Dvořák looked to the consolation of the Stabat mater, the thirteenth century hymn to the suffering of Mary at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ her son. Dvořák’s setting of the Stabat mater for four soloists, chorus and orchestra is divided into ten sections, the first four being grave in mood,. Sections five to eight deal with consolation and the final two sections (nine and ten) return to the solemnity of the opening. Successfully premiered at Prague under Adolf Čech in 1880, the acclaim of the 1883 London premiere resulted in Dvořák being invited to London to conduct a performance at the Albert Hall given by an orchestra of one-hundred and fifty players and a nine-hundred strong chorus.

 As I have come to expect from Maestro Jansons, his strongly cast quartet of international soloists and Bavarian chorus were flawlessly prepared. Fully understanding the subtlety of the Latin setting the eloquently blended singing radiated a considerable depth of sacred inspiration. Canadian soprano Erin Wall in her duet with tenor ‘Fac, ut portem Christi mortem’ had steadied from some early wavering in the opening quartets allowing her to convey with her bright fluid tone a credible sense of consolation. By far the most authoritative voice was that of outstanding German tenor Christian Elsner giving a rock solid performance of irrefutable piety. A highlight was Elsner’s solo ‘Fac, ut portem Christi mortem’, the epitome of vocal clarity, effortless delivery and persuasive sacred expression.

 Giving a respectable enough performance was Japanese mezzo-soprano Mihoko Fujimura. Singing a touch flat on occasions Fujimura’s solo ‘Inflammatus et accensus’ was slightly unsteady revealing a vibrato that , although considerable, didn’t intrude too much. A dark resonant bass Liang Li from China, although a touch uneven, portrayed the seriousness of the text. Creating an almost sinister mood his solo ‘Fac, ut ardeat cor meum’ was rendered with a suitable depth of gravity.

 Under the firm direction and persuasive pacing of Mariss Jansons there are not enough superlatives to describe the responsive performance of the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks who provided selfless playing of such high integrity. A special mention is owed to the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks in quite radiant form, being expressively secure and devoutly fervent throughout this magnificent Dvořák setting. Virtually all the concerts of the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks are recorded for broadcast and I look forward to this performance of the ‘Stabat mater’ becoming available soon on the BR-Klassik label.

Michael Cookson