In fifty years of concert-going I've never heard a live performance of Dvorak's Stabat Mater. It is a mystery to me why this lovely piece is not more performed in the U.S. It is in the same mold as the Brahms Requiem which is performed very frequently. Perhaps the difference is that the Dvorak requires a strong quartet of solo singers, rather like the Verdi Requiem or the Beethoven Ninth Symphony. Still, it ought to be done more often. This recording, made by The Washington Chorus and Orchestra under Robert Shafer, and featuring soprano Christine Brewer, mezzo Marietta Simpson, tenor John Aler and bass Ding Gao, makes a good case for that notion.
Dvorak began his Stabat Mater in 1876, immediatly after the death of his newborn daughter, Josefa. But he laid it aside for a time. Then, within a year, his other two remaining young children died, one from smallpox, the other from accidentally drinking a phosphorus solution used for making matches. He returned to his sketches for the piece and it was premiered in 1880 in Prague. This Stabat Mater differs from the other most noted 19th-century Stabats (by Rossini, and by Verdi [from his Four Sacred Pieces]) in that it is symphonic in design, the others being more straightforward, even operatic. Also, the Verdi and Rossini pieces tend to focus more on the suffering of Jesus, rising to climaxes when that is mentioned in the sacred Latin text, while in Dvorak's treatment focuses more on the grief of Mary at the death of her son. Dvorak's approach keeps the focus on the human side of the events described.
I have known this piece only from recordings, primarily those by Vaclav Talich and Rafael Kubelik, each of whom has world-class soloists (the likes of John Shirley-Quirk, Edith Mathis, Beno Blachut, Wieslaw Ochman. The present soloists are quite adequate, and in the case of Ding Gao, a young bass, quite a find. The chorus is obviously well-drilled and sings musically and with superb diction.
Included on this disc is the nine-minute "Psalm 149," sung in Czech.
The sound is good...