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Stabat Mater
Hildegard of BINGEN (1098-1179)
O Euchari [05.41]
Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI (1710-1736)
Stabat Mater (1736) [35.00]
Jean François LALLOUETTE (1651-1728)
O mysterium ineffabile [02.01]
Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER (1636-1704)
Serve bone [02.19]
Pulchra es [02.30]
Richard DERING (c. 1580-1630)
O bone Jesu [02.55]
Jan Baptist VERRIJT (c. 1610-1650)
In nomine Jesu [02.43]
Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)
Ut queant laxis [03.26]
Confitebor Terzo alla Francese [06.14]
Emma Kirkby (soprano)
Catherine Denley, (mezzo)
London Baroque
St Albans Abbey Girls Choir/Simon Johnson
rec. Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Alban, St. Albans, Hertfordshire, England, 14-16 February, 11 May 2005. DDD
LAMMAS RECORDS LAMM 184D [63.42] 

 

This new release from the independent Lammas label contains nine sacred works from Renaissance and Baroque composers. It features Pergolesi’s magnificent ‘Stabat Mater’ for soprano, alto and chorus. The St. Albans Abbey Girls Choir are celebrating their tenth anniversary in 2006. It is good to hear them on this disc. 

O Euchari for soprano and chorus, Hildegard of Bingen

The Abbess Hildegard of Bingen was born to titled parents in Beresheim, Rheinhessen in Germany. At the age of eight she was put into the care of Jutta of Spanheim, whom she eventually succeeded as Abbess of a small community of nuns attached to the Benedictine monastery of Disibodenberg, Bingen near Mainz. In 1141, Hildegard reported seeing tongues of flame descend from the heavens and settle upon her, inspiring her to devote her life to intense creativity, as a visionary, naturalist, playwright, poetess and composer. The score to O Euchari for soprano and chorus is a commemoration of Saint Eucharius a third century missionary who became Bishop of the city and was almost certainly written for the clergy at Trier. 

Stabat Mater for soprano, alto and chorus, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi

Musical settings of the Stabat Mater dolorosa is a great medieval text that personalises the Virgin Mary’s grief at the foot of the Cross. Pergolesi was born in Jesi, Italy. His name became known thanks to his comic opera La Serva Padrone. He was slightly physically handicapped and had a weak constitution. A lot of confusion exists about which works Pergolesi did or did not compose. As his work became increasingly in demand, some publishers tried to make a little extra by taking an anonymous composition and attaching the name of Pergolesi. However, about the Stabat Mater there is no doubt. It is known that in his early years he composed a Stabat Mater in A minor. It is likely that the Stabat Mater in C minor was Pergolesi's last composition. The commission for this work was given by the same Order in Naples for which Alessandro Scarlatti twenty years earlier had composed a Stabat Mater. The melodic lines of Pergolesi are more sentimental and highly ornamented. The piece was widely acclaimed and it seems to have inspired many composers to imitate, paraphrase and adapt it. Tradition has it that the work was performed there every Friday in March at the Franciscan Church of San Luigi di Palazzo - the church connected to the Royal Palace, where the knights worshipped. Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater soon attracted widespread acclaim, being performed all over Europe, and in many different editions. He originally composed the work for soprano, alto, three violins, cello, and organ. This performance for Lammas Records deviates from the original, as, in addition to the two female soloists, the girls’ choir is used in five of the twelve sections together with a small string group and organ. 

O mysterium ineffabile for chorus, Jean François Lallouette

Lallouette was one of the most highly respected musicians of his day. A pupil of Lully, the early part of his career was spent working for his master at the Opera in Paris. A falling out between the two over Lully’s opera Isis led to Lallouette’s dismissal and subsequently he spent the next phase of his career doing various jobs in Paris and in Italy, picking up various musical influences that informed his later music along the way. In 1697 he became Choirmaster at Rouen Cathedral, before taking up a similar position at Notre Dame de Paris, in 1700. Claiming fatigue, he was released in 1716 but was reinstated in 1718 after asserting that his music was not being well-performed. O mysterium ineffabile is a very beautiful motet that owes much to the music of Lalande. 

Serve bone and Pulchra es for chorus, Marc-Antoine Charpentier

Little is known about Charpentier’s early years, but one of the earliest references is a key one. We know that he spent three years in Rome, thoroughly immersing himself in mid-seventeenth century Italian music. All of the musical posts that he occupied upon his return to Paris required him to write sacred music: for private chapels (Mademoiselle de Guise and the Dauphin), churches (St Louis and the Sainte Chapelle) and various convents. Charpentier’s motets, more than two hundred in total, are incredibly diverse in style and instrumentation. It seems likely that both Serve bone and Pulchra es are amongst several motets that Charpentier composed to be sung by the nuns of the Port-Royal de Paris. The text of Serve bone is from Matthew 25:21. 

O bone Jesu for chorus, Richard Dering

Recent scholarship suggests that Dering was trained in England before later converting to Catholicism. There is certainly evidence of his having spent some time in Rome and Venice as a young man. Like many English Catholics of his time he opted to live abroad, working as organist of the convent of English nuns in Brussels. In 1625 he was appointed organist to Queen Henrietta Maria soon after her marriage to Charles I, becoming ‘musician for the lutes and voices’ to the King in the same year. O bone Jesu comes from the Cantica Sacra, an especially popular collection in England after 1625. Apparently these motets were amongst Oliver Cromwell’s favourite music. 

In Nomine Jesu for chorus, Jan Baptist Verrijt

Jan Baptist Verrijt was, alongside Sweelinck, considered to be one of the foremost Dutch musicians of the age. He began his career as Organist of St Pieterskerk at Oirschot, near Eindhoven. In 1636 he was appointed organist of St Pieterskerk, Louvain, and at the same time became one of the city musicians. In 1640 he became city carillonneur and organist of St Janskerk, Hertogenbosch, for which he converted to Protestantism. From March 1644 until his death he was Organist of St Laurenskerk, Rotterdam and it was in this last phase of his life that he produced his Flammae divinae, Op. 5 (1649) which comprises 2 concerted masses and 18 motets, of which In Nomine Jesu is No.18. The work is dedicated to Dr Guiliemo Bom, probably a citizen of Rotterdam. The text is taken from Philippians 2:10-11. 

Ut queant laxis for chorus, Claudio Monteverdi

Ut queant laxis is contained within Monteverdi’s monolithic collection Selva morale e spirituale of 1641, one of the main fruits of Monteverdi’s thirty years as maestro di cappella at St Mark’s, Venice. It is headed Himnus Sancti Joannis sopra lo stesso metro (Hymn of St John in the same metre) being musically the same as the preceding item in the collection, Iste confessor; it is likely that other hymns of the same metre may also have been sung to this music. Ut queant laxis is the office hymn for the feast of the Nativity of St John the Baptist. It is significant in musical history because the opening syllables of each half line give ut, re, mi, fa, sol and la, and this corresponded to the notes on which the syllable was sung in the plainsong version. 

Confitebor Terzo alla Francese for soprano, alto and chorus, Claudio Monteverdi

The somewhat unusual character of Confitebor tibi Domine (Terzo alla Francese) can be attributed to the way in which it reworks two madrigals in the French style from Monteverdi’s Eighth book of 1638. Although scored for soprano solo, choir and continuo, Monteverdi explains in a note that it can be performed with ‘four violin family instruments, leaving the solo part to a solo voice’. For this Lammas performance the vocal line is divided so that there are additional dialogue effects. At the Gloria Patri there is a most remarkable burst of virtuosity from the soprano. The text is from Psalm 111. 

The St Albans Abbey Girls Choir was formed back in 1996 by a group of twenty-five girls aged between seven and fifteen. A significant development in the progress of the choir came in 2001 with the appointment of Simon Johnson as Assistant Master of Music and Director of the Abbey Girls Choir at St Albans Cathedral. The year 2006 marks the Choir’s tenth anniversary and this recording is a celebration of their achievements and continued development. The St Albans Abbey Girls Choir have already released two acclaimed recordings, Awake my Soul and Lo, the full, final sacrifice; both for the Lammas label. This recording came about following a sell-out concert in May 2004 featuring the same performers and much of the same repertoire. 

One is immediately struck by the spirited and impassioned singing of the St Albans Abbey Girls Choir which contains that special ability to emotionally inspire the listener. They convey an abundance of confidence and provide impressive colour in their interpretations which easily overrides any episodes of patchy tuning and difficulties of security of ensemble in the lower passages. 

For two generations the uniquely beautiful voice, incisive intelligence and brilliant musicianship of Emma Kirkby has delighted audiences both in concert performance and on record. The years have affected Kirkby’s vocal flexibility and consequently reduced her ability to thrill but her standards remain high. It remains a pleasure to hear her voice and I thoroughly enjoyed her performance in the Cujus animam gementem and Vidit suum dulcem natum of the Pergolesi Stabat Mater. Sadly, I was disappointed with the voice of Catherine Denley whose contralto was uncomfortably unsteady, especially in her lower registers and generally lacking in smoothness and focus. 

Formed in 1978 the London Baroque ensemble, together with Terence Charlston on the Vincent Woodstock organ, provide impeccable playing throughout. Simon Johnson brings enormous conviction to his expert direction. 

The Lammas booklet notes are of a high standard with full Latin texts and English translations. Recorded at the Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Alban, in St. Albans, there is no problem with the sound provided from the Lammas engineers. 

Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater is a most frequently recorded sacred work with dozens of recordings currently available in the catalogues. Consequently, any recommended recording must be of the highest possible quality. My particular favourite versions are from Il Seminario Musicale with Veronique Gens and Gerard Lesne on Virgin VC5 45291-2, Les Talens-Lyriques with Barbara Bonney and Andreas Scholl under Christophe Rousset on Decca 466 134-2 and Gemma Bertagnolli and Sara Mingardo with the Concerto Italiano under Rinaldo Alessandrini on Opus OP 30-160. 

Michael Cookson 

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