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Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI (1710-1736)
Stabat Mater 1,2 [40.51]; Salve Regina in C minor 1 [16.13]
Jörg Waschinski (soprano) 1
Michael Chance (counter-tenor) 2
Cologne Chamber Orchestra/Helmut Müller-Brühl
rec. Deutschland Radio, Sendesaal des Funkhauses, Köln, Germany, November 2003. DDD
Latin texts with English translations provided.
NAXOS 8.557447 [57.05]

Any new recording of these works will need to be something special to set it apart from the many others that are available. Recent rivals have unsurprisingly tended to come from period instrument ensembles but the Cologne Chamber Orchestra adopt “the principles of historical performance practice on modern instruments and so can meet the needs of modern concert halls”, according to the disc’s liner information. Depending on your taste in such matters this is likely either to be an attractive or off-putting factor. Should you like Norrington’s recent approach to conducting modern instruments, for example, then the results achieved here may well be acceptable.
To my ears however this approach misses something fundamental: period instruments and modern ones have distinct differences in the timbres they produce and this is largely to do with the strengths and weaknesses of each when played. Period string instruments respond better when less vibrato is employed whereas modern string instruments rely more on the use of vibrato in playing to bring textures to life. Vibratoless playing on modern instruments – by and large what we have here – sounds for the most part rather dull compared to what might be achieved, even though one has to admit that the standard of orchestral playing produced by the Cologne Chamber Orchestra is perfectly respectable.
On the whole the tempi adopted by Helmut Müller-Brühl are reasonably predictable, which when taken into overall account does not help either reading stand out against those led by Christopher Hogwood (The Academy of Ancient Music with Emma Kirkby and James Bowman) or Christophe Rousset (Talens Lyriques with Barbara Bonney and Andreas Scholl). Both rivals imbue the works with a greater sense of feeling for instrumental line and Hogwood in particular enjoys drawing more adventurous tempi for his players to not only follow but delight in also.
So it is also with the singers. Jörg Waschinski I found somewhat hard to get used to. Whilst there is no denying technical ability and clarity of enunciation his tone is often produced with an edgy attack that can pall after a while. The Stabat Mater, by far the longer of the two works presented here, is rendered more listenable by Michael Chance’s contributions, which are given with greater subtlety on the whole. If only greater care had been taken to choose two voices that blended better than Waschinski’s and Chance’s, things might have been better still. By way of comparison, Kirkby and Bowman sound fresh-voiced and ever youthful blending well in tone, and their readings carry an intelligent response to text that never fails to delight. Andreas Scholl acquits himself favourably also with delivery that is never anything other than incisive. After Kirkby’s crystal clear tones Bonney for Rousset, normally an incisive singer, can seem just a little off the mark in achieving “the rapt adulations of spontaneous faith”, to quote Cris Posslac’s useful liner notes, set down so movingly by the dying 26 year old composer.  But there is little to choose between either soprano and the choice will be one of personal taste.
The Salve Regina fares better with Jörg Waschinski as soloist than the Stabat Mater, but only slightly. What shines through however is the powerful yet simple vision encapsulated in the music, not to mention the originality of much of the writing itself. Its chromaticism and exploration of dissonance recall Pergolesi’s operatic output and bring the two very different worlds of stage and private devotion almost to the point of meeting. That ultimately private devotion remains the dominant characteristic is wholly appropriate, and with it also a much needed sense of intimacy in performance. This Hogwood, the Academy of Ancient Music and Emma Kirkby deliver with unassuming naturalness. Naxos’s readings are serviceable but ultimately undistinguished when placed alongside such rival recordings.
Evan Dickerson


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