Anyone wanting a copy of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater has
a bewildering variety of recordings to choose from; ranging
from well-upholstered performances from star singers such
as June Anderson and Cecilia Bartoli to early music specialists.
The work was written during Pergolesi’s last year, whilst
he was in retreat in the Capuchin monastery at Pozzuoli near
Naples where he was trying to regain his health. Three years
earlier he had produced one of his most famous works, the
opera La Serva Padrona but had been unable
to repeat the success with his next operas.
The commission from the Neapolitan Confraternita dei
Cavalier di San Luigi di Palazzo was a high profile one;
they wanted to replace the rather old-fashioned Stabat
Mater by Alessandro Scarlatti which they used on Good
Friday. This work, for soprano, alto, strings and organ,
and the Salve Regina for soprano, strings and continuo,
were the last two works written by Pergolesi.
As to who sang them; well that is an interesting question.
Women remained silent in church at that period so churches
who undertook elaborate musical performances needed to use
boys, falsettists and castrati. The fact that Pergolesi wrote
the Stabat Mater incorporating the latest operatic
styles would seem to suggest that he was anticipating performance
Generally, the soprano part is taken by a female soprano
but here it is sung by a counter-tenor Jörg Waschinski who
specialises in singing high falsetto singing. High falsettists
have been known and used at various times in the past. The
Spanish Royal Court used high falsettists on the soprano
line in preference to castrati and some sang in the Sistine
Chapel Choir. But it is not a voice type which is common
The opening of the Stabat Mater bodes well as
Michael Chance and Jörg Waschinski blend beautifully and
produce an evocative, hushed atmosphere. Unfortunately these
good intentions are dispelled when Waschinski sings his first
solo phrase. Heard alone, Waschinski’s voice sounds a little
thin and rather hard pressed. It is truly remarkable that
he can sustain a vocal line at such a high pitch and it is
a credit to his technique that he does so. But when his voice
approaches the top of the stave, the colour bleaches out
of it and it sounds flat - in colour terms; his pitching
is generally excellent - and pressed out.
Pergolesi’s music is not virtuoso music whereby we might
appreciate the sheer skill of a singer’s high notes. In such
music, Waschinski’s voice might come into its own. Instead,
in the Stabat Mater the singer is meant to sustain
a sense of line, to be expressive and emotive. Pushed to
the limits of its range, Waschinski’s voice simply lacks
the leeway to be able to be expressive and emotive. It takes
all his power to sing the notes. This is even more noticeable
in the Salve Regina where Waschinski sings alone.
For me, the finest moments on this disc were the duets between
Waschinski and Michael Chance.
Michael Chance contributes some fine solo singing, but
can also sound a little pressed at the top of his range.
I did have the guilty thought that performing the piece at
a slightly lower pitch might have benefited the performance
Helmut Muller-Bruhl and the Cologne Chamber Orchestra
provide fine support. I wish I could recommend this disc
more. It is an interesting concept, but it is frankly not
a disc that I could listen to regularly.
see also review by Evan Dickerson
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