Dvorak's Stabat Mater

CHRISTOPHER SMITH Norwich School at Norwich Cathedral


Marking the centenary of Dvorak's death – and no doubt for the excellent reason that it gives everyone a succession of splendid opportunities – Colin Dowdeswell gathered pupils and a host of friends of Norwich School for a stirring performance of his Stabat Mater.

From the mysterious orchestral opening through to the final triumphant vision of heavenly bliss, the performers captured the right spirit of a work of contrasts. As well as the surge of power, quieter moments bring out compassion.

Now and again the setting of a medieval religious poem had something of a Victorian air. But as it was first performed in 1880, there is nothing really to complain about.

The four soloists made a sharply characterised contribution. Timothy Dawkins was a virile base, dark-toned, commanding, very powerful.

Brighter voiced, the tenor Joshua Elicott adopted a more lyrical approach, shaping his melodies elegantly. The women – soprano Fiona Hammacott and alto Ruth Peel – completed the fine quartet. Their parts were written to make the most of the words, and clear diction showed just how ingenious the composer had been.

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The orchestra enjoyed the busy evening. The score was full of instrumental cover with woodwind bringing out emotion, especially in quieter moments, and brass adding some splendour. Rising to the demands of a long and at times strenuous work, the large chorus convincingly expressed meditative moments and went on to make the conclusion genuinely exhilarating.

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