Composer Frank Ferko’s majestic new Stabat Mater (The Mother Stood) broadens the embrace of this profound medieval hymn depicting Mary at the Crucifixion. Ferko supplements the original Latin text on the theme of premature death with passages from classical Greek drama and modern verse.
Ferko (b. 1950) composed his Stabat Mater in 1998 for the a capella mixed choir His Majestie’s Clerkes. The Chicago Tribune pronounced their concert premiere of Ferko’s Stabat Mater a classical highlight of 1999: "a marvelously intricate and sincerely devout tour de force that showed off the Clerke’s disciplined, sensitive, and uncommonly nuanced singing." Writer Ted Shen asked rhetorically, "When will Frank Ferko be recognized for what he is, a talented and erudite innovator of old vocal genres?" With his fugal writing, Ferko "plays" the choir like an organ. Not surprisingly, Ferko is a veteran church organist and choral director as well as composer. He holds a doctorate in music composition from Northwestern University, where he studied with Alan Stout.
"Musically, Ferko’s Stabat Mater eschews trendy, stupefying ’mystic minimalism,’" says Cedille Records producer Jim Ginsburg. "Its soaring, virtuosic choral scoring demands resiliency, vocal dexterity, and precision ensemble work."
In his Stabat Mater, Ferko links the original Latin text to tragic events of the recent and distant past, inserting English texts by twentieth-century poets Padraic Pearse (on Irish political violence); Charlotte Mayerson (whose son died of AIDS); and Sally M. Gall, along with passages from the Gospel of St. Luke and Euripedes’ The Trojan Women (translated by Richmond Lattimore).
The work consists of 25 miniature pieces (20 Latin stanzas and five English interpolations) "that fit together much like a mosaic," Ferko writes in the CD booklet. Musically, the composition employs "old-fashioned" concepts: tonal centers, church modes, major and minor keys, counterpoint, and melody. The music digresses occasionally, "but there is a basic tonal framework for the entire composition," Ferko writes. He describes the tonal center as progressing through two "arches," from E to B-flat and from B-flat back to E --"and beyond, in the final chorale."