Unteraegeri, 19.03.2024

Choir Audite Nova Zug impresses with a full romantic interpretation

The Choir Audite Nova Zug gave an impressive interpretation of the world-famous “Stabat Mater” by Antonín Dvořák: the large audience experienced a romantic interpretation under the direction of Philipp Schmidlin with the Audite Nova choir, the South Westphalia Philharmonic and four vocal soloists.

Philipp Schmidlin has been leading the Audite Nova Zug choir for almost a year now; his second programme was played in the Unterägeri church, which was full on Sunday. Even after this short journey together, one can see that the new conductor has retained the well-known qualities of the choir and developed them appropriately.

The thorough preparation not only manifested itself in the secure mastery of the musical text, which was equally demanding in terms of vocal technique and music. Even at a relatively large distance from the audience at the back of the choir area, the clear diction and impeccable intonation were convincing - in both the agglomerations of sounds as well as in polyphonic unaccompanied piano passages, from the use of the choir tenors at the very beginning, in which they sang as ‘soloists’, to the extreme top notes with which the choir sopranos exceled again and again.

The Audite Nova choir sings Antonín Dvořák's Stabat Mater in the Unterägeri parish church, accompanied by the South Westphalia Philharmonic
Philipp Schmidlin has directed the Audite Nova choir for over a year          
Tenor Luca Bernard sang a solo part of Stabat Mater       

Photos: Stefan Kaiser

As Lion Gallusser explained at the concert introduction, Antonín Dvořák's “Stabat Mater”, Opus 58, was created partly from the personal suffering caused by the loss of three children in just two years, and partly from the hope of an additional audience during Lent, as opera performances were still banned during Lent in Catholic countries at that time. “Stabat Mater” was immediately popular with broad sections of the population, and made the composer's name known far beyond the country's borders, which later enabled Dvořák to travel to concerts and teach as far away as America.

The overall concept was consistent
The choice of the South Westphalian Philharmonic as a ‘foreign’ orchestra meant that the joint rehearsal period was very short. That was to some extent the weak point of the whole performance. While the strings and woodwinds fitted well into the overall sound with their clean interplay, the effect of the acoustics of the church on the sound of the brass was somewhat underestimated. The voices of the soloists were certainly not too ‘small’ for this church space, but they were sometimes drowned out, especially in the ensemble parts.

The overall concept was consistent. Philipp Schmidlin found the right middle ground between the basic mood set by the liturgical text and the often effervescent dynamics that characterised the individual movements in different ways. Despite the great spatial distance, the cohesion between the soloists and the choir always seemed confident and stylish, even in those places where the performances were closely intertwined.

A demanding task for the four young soloists
The four young soloists actually had to do both: fine lyrical renditions alongside dramatic entrances from an orchestra with almost the maximum instrumentation for this piece. Goar Badalian sang the soprano part with a pleasantly timbred voice that was supple, even at extreme heights. The contralto Freya Apffelstaedt impressively delivered all the levels of expression, from dramatic design, even in depth, to the more ‘accompanying’ sequences.

The cultivated lyrical design of the tenor Luca Bernard could not be continued at will in the higher registers; as a heroic tenor, he also occasionally reached his intonation limits. Jonas Jud's voluminous and clear performance in all situations appears to show great promise for the future. It was a pity that a forceful brass section obscured his most beautiful part in the quartet of the second movement.

After a moment of silence, the audience reacted with a long and intense final applause. Dvořák's “Stabat Mater” is one of the sacred works of the 19th century that can still hold its own in the canton of Zug, alongside the many settings of the same text, from Gregorian chant to contemporary experiments.