CLASSICAL Rossini, Gaetano: ''Stabat Mater.'' Katia Ricciarelli, Lucia Valentini Terrani, Dalmacio Gonzalez, Ruggero Raimondi. Philharmonia Orchestra & Chorus, Carlo Maria Giulini conductor. (DG Digital 2532 046). Catherine Malfitano, Agnes Baltsa, Robert Gambill, Gwynne Howell. Orchestra & Chorus of Maggio Musicale Florentino, Riccardo Muti, conductor. (Angel Digital DS-37901). Rossini's ''Stabat Mater'' is, on the surface, one of the strangest devotional works by an important composer. Time and again in the piece he seemed to set music in direct opposition to the mood of the text. These two performances reflect that dichotomy tellingly. Giulini believes that under the rather flamboyant, almost flippant exterior lies music of great devotion. Muti believes that Rossini intended his music to be taken literally. Giulini slows the controversial sections down and they become truly devotional. Muti keeps things moving briskly , and the odd, almost comic undertone creeps through.
Giulini wrestles with the issue of faith in this music; Muti merely presents the score. Neither vocal quartet is ideal, though Giulini's gets more out of the music. Giulini's Dalmacio Gonzalez handles the famous ''Cujus aninam,'' complete with high D, deftly. Muti's Catherine Malfitano, in particular, sounds entirely too girlish for the soprano's mighty outbursts. Giulini's is a major performance with a flawed cast. Muti's - though one of the better things he has done on records - remains the presentation of a score rather than a composition with a message to be communicated.