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Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Stabat Mater
Serena Farnocchia (sop)
Anna Bonitatibus (mezzo)
Ismael Jordi (tenor)
Alex Esposito (bass)
Symphony Orchestra and Chorus Opera Vlaanderen, Antwerp/Ghent/Alberto Zedda
rec. live, Opera Vlaanderen, Antwerp/Ghent, 15 January 2011
DYNAMIC CDS7799 [56:20]

Alberto Zedda has been a regular fixture at the Opera Vlaanderen for many years, and they are lucky because he is one of the finest Rossinians out there, and when they play bel canto the orchestra becomes the finest Italian ensemble in the Low Countries. He led them in their Semiramide at the 2011 Edinburgh Festival, and their opera partnership has been captured elsewhere on disc. It’s lovely, therefore, also to have it in this live concert performance of the Stabat Mater, and Zedda is the star.

He's a total natural at shaping Rossini’s paragraphs, with his lifetime of experience in the opera house coming to the fore. I loved, for example, the subtlety of his not-quite-emphasis on lines like dum pendebat filius, or the gentle kick that he gives to the tempo at the beginning of Cujus animam, revelling in the lyricism of the violins’ bel canto line. I also loved the sense of the brooding storm in Pro peccatis, though his (surely intentional) inconsistency of tempi at the start of the Inflamamtus I found very irritating. The orchestra respond to him very well too, particularly in the obbligato sections, such as the horns at the opening of Fac ut portem, and you get a lovely sense of a long-established partnership working well.

The soloists are good too. Anna Bonitatibus is ideally melodramatic at Quis est homo, revealing her excellent chest register and thrilling middle, while the top gets more of a showcase in Fac ut portem, and she carries it off with excellence.  She is very well contrasted with the much sweeter but still dramatic soprano of Serena Farnocchia, who blends in and out of the mezzo’s sound very convincingly. She also has a fire-breathing steeliness in the Inflammatus, though Zedda’s inconsistent tempi don't help her here.

Unfortunately, Ismael Jordi is far from ideally sweet in the Cujus animam, and he just about manages to crest the final line after some nail-biting passagio. However, he improves dramatically by the time of the Sancta Mater. Alex Esposito is very serviceable in Pro peccatis, and he is a good High Priest in Sancta Mater, though he is a long way from erasing the memories of other recorded greats like Sotin (for Kertesz) or d’Arcangelo (for Pappano). One of the most fun (and I use the word advisedly, based on Zedda’s sunlit approach) moments in the performance is the quartet of Sancta Mater, where the blend is just right, and the sound produced is actually very good indeed.

The chorus sound great in Eja mater, and there is a quiet thoughtfulness to Quando corpus morietur, before an accurate (if slightly lethargic) final Amen. The soloists are much more closely miked than the chorus, which leads to a slightly uncomfortable balance, and the recording levels don't seem to like some of the climaxes, which go cloudy quite quickly. It’s a live recording, but the audience are pretty well behaved and, after the transition between the first and second movements, there isn't even that much coughing between movements.

So while overall it's nowhere near as good as Kertesz or Pappano, it's not at all bad, and if you're an admirer of the artists then it's worth checking out.

Simon Thompson



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