Review – 1st April 2017 Concert: Dvorak Stabat Mater

Cantata Choir’s Return to Dvorák

It’s been 32 years since the Isle of Wight Cantata Choir performed Dvorák’s Stabat Mater, when the group was still in its early years. Indeed, some of its singers still remember the first time they approached this magnificent work, which was reprised last Saturday evening in the Medina Theatre.

For those who only know 19th century Czech composer Antonín Dvorák for his New World Symphony, this cantata is a revelation. It‘s unmistakably his, with its deft and approachable synthesis of classical, romantic and nationalist styles. But it also contains an extraordinary power, drawn from a well of sorrow. The Stabat Mater is a 13th century hymn to the Virgin Mary, portraying her suffering during her Son’s crucifixion. It’s a popular – if solemn – setting for composers stretching from Palestrina to Pärt, but in Dvorák’s case the hymn vents tangible pain, tempered by consolation. Written in grief over the loss of his daughter Josefa, the work was only completed after the tragic death of his remaining young children.

Both orchestra and choir took a little time to get into their stride, but once they did they were full of passion and energy. Under the baton of Rachel Tweddle, their final extended “Amen” almost raised the roof of the Medina Theatre. The choir was joined by professional soloists Peter Van Hulle (tenor), Adrian Clarke (baritone), stand-out mezzo-soprano Sarah Pring and soprano Sally Harrison. Particular mention must go to the woodwind and timpani sections of the orchestra.

The Cantata Choir is already looking forward to its next concert on 7th October, featuring two modern jazz-inspired Masses. For more information visit iowcantatachoir.co.uk.