Veteran historical-performance conductor Philippe Herreweghe and his Collegium Vocale Gent might seem a questionable choice for Antonín Dvorák's lushly Romantic Stabat Mater. And the booklet essay, which assigns the motivation for the work to Dvorák's 1870s employment at a church that favored pure Palestrina choral style, may further lead you to expect (or fear) a radically stripped-down reading of the work. But actually Herreweghe, like other performers who came of age in the historical-performance movement, has been moving into mainstream repertory, and his interpretation here, while not exactly possessing an intense subjectivity, is well within the mainstream. It's a bit deliberate in the tempos and tends to emphasize the work's roots in church music, but it is in no way chilly, and there's an X factor that comes from the performers' clear enthusiasm for the music. Herreweghe employs a choir of about 60 singers, a far cry from the 840 that performed the work in London, and more monumental performances exist. But it would no doubt have been very often performed by forces of this size, and everything is in balance and very smoothly done. Best of all are the quartet of Flemish and German soloists, whose ensemble work is both precise and relaxed, and who add a sort of lilt to many of their melodies. Listen to the work of mezzo soprano Michaela Selinger in the "Inflammatus et accensus movement" (track 9): she is highly expressive without letting the music expand to operatic dimensions. Herreweghe's characteristic orientation comes through in the final fugue, where the parts are all clearly sculpted and plenty of room is made for the brass underpinning. Add in clear, warm sound from Out Here's engineers, working in the Antwerp deSingel concert hall, and you have a worthy entry in the still not large catalog of recordings of the Stabat Mater.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Stabat Mater, Op. 58|