REVIEW: World class soloists show why Dvorak shot to fame

From left: Sally Harrison, Jane Haughton, Lawrence Olsworth-Peter and Michael Christie
From left: Sally Harrison, Jane Haughton, Lawrence Olsworth-Peter and Michael Christie

Dvorak’s Stabat Mater, Ardingly College Chapel, Palm Sunday, March 29

Under Robert Hammersley’s baton a world class quartet of soloists, at one with the Ardingly Choral Society and the Mid Sussex Sinfonia (led by Martin Palmer), demonstrated to a deeply moved, silent audience why Dvorak, a decade before his New World symphony, shot to international fame as a master of choral and orchestral music with his Stabat Mater.

Its medieval Latin text universalises the experience of Mary watching in agony, but with confident faith, her son’s suffering on the cross.

If performed well it seizes and maintains listeners’ attention and emotions from its opening, rhythmically insistent, orchestral bars. Then it seamlessly passes the unrelenting initiative, first to the chorus, then the vocal quartet and on to its life-affirming conclusion with all these forces joined as one.

In between there is much musically demanding interplay, requiring great skill, teamwork and empathy with the majestic, contemplative and sometimes theatrically exciting score.

Magnificent ensemble from chorus and orchestra blended, reinforced and punctuated the convincingly expressive work of a quartet on top form.

Sally Harrison (soprano), Jane Haughton (alto), Lawrence Olsworth-Peter (tenor) and Michael Christie (bass) spared us no pain, yet conveyed the contemplative, humble trust in resurrection that the composer, who completed the score after the successive deaths of three of his children, clearly held.

And, importantly, they looked the part: just enough white or sequins against their dark attire to emphasise the underlying optimism of a work that explores apprehension, suffering and death.

Fittingly for Holy Week, the audience went home emotionally and spiritually challenged yet encouraged, after encountering this timeless yet sometimes neglected masterpiece.

For this polished but uncompromising performance had been delivered sympathetically, with superb diction and facial expression and at tempos that neither over-indulged nor rushed the flow of an holistically conceived oratorio. Unforgettable.