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]
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
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
and dramatic expression. Röschmann and Daniels were inspired
choices. I have yet to hear a finer account of the Stabat
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