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Haydn: Stabat Mater
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Haydn composed the 13-part Stabat Mater in 1767, three decades before most of the great masses and roughly equivalent with the Missa Celensis or Cantata Mass. It preceded its natural concert partner, the Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross oratorio, by almost two decades. Taken from the 13th century hymn, the stabat mater is Mother Mary's wail at seeing her son dying on the cross.
Through Haydn, she expresses her sorrow in 13 movements (14 in some recordings) for chorus and four soloists. Haydn's piece has mostly slow choral movements interspersed with solos. There are two really great solos for the bass and the thing ends with a rather silly but upbeat virtuosic tour de force for the soprano. It's not Papa Haydn's greatest choral work but it shows him stretching his legs in a minor key nad lays the path for the great masses to come.
Heltay probably has the best group of soloists in any recording of the stabat mater: soprano Arleen Auger, mezzo-soprano Alfreda Hodgson, tenor Anthony Rolfe Johnson and booming bass Gwynne Howell, who were all members of the London-Decca stable of singers during the 1960s-80s. The starry vocal quartet is always wonderful but it doesn't always equal the best stabat mater available, the result of some of Heltay's pacing choices, an overreverberant recording where the chorus sometimes comes in too loud, and some operatic tendencies by the soloists that transcend the material.
Still, this is one of the contenders for "best" stabat mater and its return is a boom to any lover of Haydn's vocal music that has never heard it. Other candidates among "best" stabat mater for me are those led by Frieder Bernius for fire and conviction and Tadeusz Strugala [[ASIN: B002YBF4J0]] for loving handling and wonderful solo singing, especially by the women. This one also fits in among the best I know. An earlier CD incarnation is available (ASIN: B0000267N8).