Pergolesi's setting of the Stabat Mater text is the essence of controlled Baroque sentiment. Verdi's is unabashed grand opera, with all the attendant Italianate pain and suffering. And Rossini's is impure Rossini, which means that it abounds in lilting lyricism.
If the sentimentalized agony of Mary watching her Son die on the cross seems oddly unsuited to Rossini-type um-pah-pahs, never mind. Rossini was conned int setting this text. Its lightheartedness is a delight, but just think of the lugubriousness he might have produced had his heart really been in it.
The Choral Arts Society under the direction of Norman Scribner brough the Kennedy Center's French Romantic Festival to a close with this music on Saturday, and even the audience got into the act, applauding vigorously between sections just as if they were at the opera.
It was a lovely performance. The choral tone had a sheen that is born of balance, blend and careful intonation. Their diction was superb and Scribner had the sense to downplay the emotionalism of the text.
"Solo ensemble" is a phrase that is often used loosely, soloists being notoriously disinclined to accommodate themselves to other singers. But the solo ensemble in this performance was a marvel of musicianly craftsmanship.
Phyllis Bryn-Julson, Lili Chookasian, Gene Tucker and Richard Crist were particularly effective in the concerted pieces. These are four very different voices but their owners are smart enough and talented enough to use them musically.
The concert began with "Nuits d'Ete" by Berlioz, six songs for four soloists and orchestra on Gautier poems. Baritone William Parker joined Bryn-Julson, Chookasian and Tucker here and each singer gave his own phrases a different but appropriate set nuances.
Scribner, however, was not able to fine-tune the orchestral colors to their final subtle perfection, although he paced the music well.