Stabat Mater - Spear's Magazine

Stabat Mater

It presented us with an expanded orchestra complete with a panicked trombonist forgetting his music

The Southbank is a heaving, vibrant world of theatre, galleries, cafes, street art, skateboarders and concertgoers young and old. Go there on a sunny evening, have a cocktail at the Skylon Bar and see London at its most beautiful.

Despite its ugly 1950’s architecture, The Southbank stands for living musical culture and this autumn there is so much to choose from: projects on Prokofiev and Boulez, concerts with Jonas Kaufmann, Paul Lewis and the Age of Enlightenment Orchestra, the London Jazz Festival with Cesaria Evora, Regina Carter, the Yiddish Twist Orchestra and Rickie Lee Jones.

I kicked off my season with Beethoven’s Second Symphony and Rossini’s Stabat Mater at the Royal Festival Hall, conducted by the effervescent young Canadian Yannick Nézet Séguin. A rousing start by the London Philharmonic Orchestra (a resident orchestra of the Southbank) gave way to a stunning climax at the end of the first movement. The LPO work was an intense unit and Yannick’s conducting was clear and dynamic; sweeping crescendos and great attention to dynamics provided that true classical yet romantic Beethoven.

Rossini’s Stabat Mater presented us with an expanded orchestra complete with a panicked trombonist forgetting his music and the arrival of the immense London Philharmonic Choir. A pianissimo ‘Stabat Mater’ from the bases grew layer upon layer, giving way to the elegant quartet of soloists who were placed (disappointingly) behind the orchestra and in front of the choir. I’m sure the conductor wanted a truer balance of sound, particularly for bass and choir, but there were times when I simply couldn’t hear either the soprano or the tenor over the orchestra. Also visually, one loses so much expression when a singer is so far away they might as well be singing from platform two at Waterloo.

Rossini’s Stabat Mater is far from the solemn reflection mourning at the cross should be; it’s full of drama and high antics and is positively operatic. Yannick’s energy combined with the passionate soloists and choir alike certainly achieved this.

The Koren tenor Ji-Min Park has a warm and graceful sound. He dared to take long fermatas, which provided wonderful tension in his aria Cujus Animae; his brilliant cadenza was assured and sparkling. Ji-Min is an International star and his handling of such a notoriously tough aria was for him a walk in the park. The expressive Japanese soprano Eri Nakamura has a beautiful voice but I fear it is not suited to such a dramatic piece. I needed a meatier and, dare I say it, more mature sound; however, her duet with the dramatic mezzo Ruxandra Donose was elegant and lyrical.

The highlights of this Stabat Mater were Ruxandra’s wonderful dramatic ‘Fac ut Portem’ and Matthew Rose’s sublime ‘Eja, Mater, fons amoris’, sung a capella with the London Philharmonic Choir. The haunting effect transported me to Roman catacombs and deserted monasteries. It was wonderfully creepy and moving and deservedly given a rousing standing ovation.