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Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI (1710-1736)
Stabat Mater in F major for soprano, contralto, strings and basso continuo (1736) [33.18]
Salve Regina in F minor for contralto, strings and basso continuo (1736) [13:04]
Salve Regina in A minor for soprano, strings and basso continuo (1736) [10:22]
Dorothea Röschmann (soprano)
David Daniels (counter-tenor)
Europa Galante/Fabio Biondi (direction, violin)
rec. 6-9, 11-14 August 2005, Studio Flagey, Brussels, Belgium. DDD
VIRGIN CLASSICS 3633402 [57:13]

The featured work on this release of three of Pergolesi’s sacred works is the renowned Stabat Mater. The Italian-born composer during his short life became known mainly for the success of his comic opera La Serva Padrone.
Settings of the Stabat Mater use great medieval texts for musical depictions of the Virgin Mary’s grief at the foot of the Cross. Pergolesi’s commission was given by the Confraternity of the Knights of the Virgin from the Church of Santa Maria dei Sette Dolori (Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows) in Naples. They desired a modern score to replace the usually performed Stabat Mater that the order had commissioned from Alessandro Scarlatti some twenty years earlier. Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater soon attracted widespread acclaim and was performed all over Europe in many different editions. Shortly after completion at the Capuchin monastery at Pozzuoli the composer died there from consumption.
It seems from the information in the booklet notes that Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante employ similar instrumentation to that Pergolesi had used in his original version of the score: soprano and contralto soloists, two violins, viola, and basso continuo. The contralto part is taken by the world famous counter-tenor David Daniels. 
I have not been totally satisfied with any of the recordings that I have come across over the years. I favour the period instrument accounts over the weightier versions that utilise larger orchestral forces and modern instruments. The present period instrument version is the finest that I have heard. Here Biondi’s performers expertly achieve the demanding blend of the dramatic expression of opera with the spiritual exaltation of a sacred hymn to the Virgin Mary. My highlight is the opening section of the score - the Stabat Mater dolorosa - where the purity and transparency of the striking and responsive voices of Röschmann and Daniels take the breath away. I was also highly impressed by the deeply moving spiritual serenity of the Largo duet sections Quis est homo qui non fleret and Quando corpus morietur.

According to my reference book Pergolesi wrote five settings of the Salve Regina an antiphon in praise of the Virgin Mary. Both settings on this release were originally conceived for solo soprano. The F minor score was subsequently transposed from its original C minor to make it suitable for contralto. Fabio Biondi directs highly accomplished performances that crucially combine spirit with reverence. The solo singing is glorious and one cannot help noticing the crystal clear diction of the two soloists.

The booklet notes are exemplary containing full Latin texts with German, French and English translations. Recorded at the Studio Flagey in Brussels in 2005 the admirable sound quality provided by the engineers is cool, vivid and well balanced. At a running time of fifty-seven minutes it is a shame that Virgin Classics chose not to fill-up the disc with another score. Vivaldi’s Stabat Mater, RV 621; Nisi Dominus, RV 608 or Magnificat, RV 611 would have made suitable additions.
Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater is a frequently recorded sacred work with dozens of recordings currently available. Consequently any recording must be of the highest possible quality to gain recommendation status. This wonderful Virgin Classics version will take pride of place over the half dozen versions that I have in my collection. Other excellent versions that will provide pleasure are from Il Seminario Musicale with Veronique Gens and Gerard Lesne for their vigour and joy on Virgin VC5 45291-2; Les Talens-Lyriques with Barbara Bonney and Andreas Scholl under Christophe Rousset for their fresh and lively performance on Decca 466 134-2 and the incisive and dramatic impact of Gemma Bertagnolli and Sara Mingardo with the Concerto Italiano under Rinaldo Alessandrini on Opus III OP 30-160.
Biondi, using authentically-scaled forces, directs beautifully shaped performances that contain the appropriate balance of reverence and dramatic expression. Röschmann and Daniels were inspired choices. I have yet to hear a finer account of the Stabat Mater.
Michael Cookson  

see also review by Robert Hugill

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