Dvořák – Stabat Mater
Alexandra Coku: soprano, Renata Pokupic: alto, Pavol Breslik: tenor, Markus Butter: bass
Brigitte Engerer, piano
Laurence Equilibey, conductor
The Original Version of Dvořák’s Stabat Mater: the Project
As the subtitle implies, this is not a usual recording of Antonìn Dvořák’s Stabat Mater. Instead of the work we are used to listen to, it presents an earlier version of Dvořák’s most popular sacred work, arranged for piano – not orchestra – soloists and chorus.
This version is quite different from the complete one, first of all for its structure. In the first place, this version of the Stabat Mater includes only seven pieces out of ten and the tenor does not have his solo aria. Moreover, the seven pieces are sometimes dissimilar to their final version. The present one includes different atmospheres and climaxes, for example.
The Original Version of Dvořák’s Stabat Mater: Further Considerations
There is one thing in particular that make me think about the choice to record this “original version” of the Stabat Mater. As far as we know, the (at that time) still unknown Dvořák did not intend to publish it, perhaps he did not even wanted it to be performed in this state and – more relevantly – later he refined the Stabat Mater further. An “original version” presupposes at least that this work had its autonomy from a next version and that it was complete or almost complete. It does not seem the case. This is rather a phase in the creative process, a “phase No. 1”, which is not distinct from the final one. Therefore, I wonder if this can be really considered an “original version” or if it is simply a sketch of a work that Dvořák improved and orchestrated afterwards – as it actually happened.
The Original Version of Dvořák’s Stabat Mater: the Performance
Whatever the objection on the proposal, this recording does not appear worthless or superfluous when it comes to the performance. Maybe it is exactly the fact that soloist, chorus and pianist are performing a work that they know is imperfect that inspired them to perform it with energy and subtlety. The fact remains that their performance is absolutely enjoyable.
Pianist Brigitte Engerer, who has the difficult task to support the Stabat Mater from the beginning to the end, is a gifted performer who knows how to infuse dramatic spirit to Dvořák’s music. Thanks to her, this Stabat Mater, that could have been as a flat and weak work, is always pervaded with tension and its – quite sombre – colour is very well represented.
As for the soloists, they are in fine voice. Soprano Alexandra Coku shines for her luminous and soft voice. Alto Renata Pokupic is remarkable for the skill and sentiment that make her aria Inflammatus an extremely touching piece. Tenor Pavol Breslik (who later released an album entirely dedicated to Dvořák’s songs and sang also in the recording of his Spectre Bride) distinguishes himself for his bright, smooth voice. For his part, bass Markus Butter explores all the colouristic potentials of his instrument, controlling his phrases to the end of the note. Finally, the choir Accentus, conducted by Laurence Equilibey, sings with vigour and passion, adding pathos and emotion to Dvořák’s beautiful music.