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Dvorak’s Stabat Mater, Tranchell, The Cambridge Review, 5th February 1955

Dvorak’s Stabat Mater was performed on January 27 in St John’s College Chapel by the Cambridge Philharmonic Society. It is a fine work, beautifully proportioned in its alternations of lyric tenderness and dramatic storm, and the climax towards the end was extremely exciting. The overall success of the performance was as usual due largely to the chorus. I say “as usual,” for it seems that on all occasions the chorus of the Philharmonic Society sings with firmness, fervour and sensibility, while the exigencies of concert-promotion does not provide for adequate rehearsal of the orchestra. Dvorak was not to know this, and so perhaps his orchestration is slightly at fault. The demands he makes of the woodwind in particular cannot be respected merely in sight-reading. The players themselves could with advantage have observed this fact in advance, and thus shown in the event more consideration for their composer and their audience. The irregularities amongst oboes and bassoons were expecially [sic] distracting.

The soloists sang impeccably. It was a pity that a fair proportion of their work was drowned by the orchestra. Here again more rehearsal would have been to the good. Doreen Murray (soprano) and David Galliver (tenor) were especially delightful in their duet “Fac, ut portem Christi mortem,” etc. Miss Murray’s high notes were a joy. Her high B in the opening number, and her soaring passages in the finale were most exciting. John Noble (bass) was excellent in his solo ‘Fac, ut ardeat cor meum.” Barbara Gill (contralto), who was rendering her services at short notice, did not get a full opportunity to display her quality, since she was incessantly swamped by the wind—as in her number “Inflammatus.” This was infuriating, because what one could hear of her was most amiable. A surprising thing was the ensemble singing of the quartet—for a change, beyond reproach.

Even though Philip Miggins led the orchestra, there were moments when the violins could have played with more poetic desperation. Alan Hemmings at the organ had not taken the precaution of tuning it to the orchestra. Luckily his interpolations were not frequent.

On the whole, it was an auspicious evening, and the conductor, Denis Fielder, is to be congratulated.

Peter Tranchell