you view this CD will very much depend on your attitude to the
performers. After all, the world doesn’t really need another
recording of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater even when recorded
by the ever-wonderful Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante. On this
disc the soloists are Dorothea Röschmann and David Daniels,
a combination which is guaranteed to help sell CDs but also
provides Biondi with soloists who share his ethos of presenting
baroque music in period performances but with a high degree
of passion and commitment.
Röschmann and Daniels move between the operatic and period performance
worlds. Both have voices that are at home in both. Judging by
their performances here, both Röschmann and Daniels are able
to share a common attitude to the music which means that not
only do their voices blend well, but in the duets their performances
are in harmony with each other in a remarkable way.
might seem odd to say that their voices blend well, but Daniels’
rich, refulgent tones are aptly complemented by Röschmann’s
more silvery soprano. If Biondi had cast a soprano with as rich
a voice as Daniels, Renée Fleming for example, the results would
have been too rich.
brings a wonderful sense of line to her solos, managing enviably
to combine this feeling for musical line with a welcome richness
and depth to the voice. Her voice has developed and darkened
somewhat and is slightly less silvery than in the past, but
as this comes with an added richness I am not complaining. Sometimes
I felt that she was pushing a little too hard, there are moments
when the silver threatens to turn to steel.
voice is far plusher; there is still a core of focused line
but it is surrounded by a rich haze of vibrato, dare I use the
adjective plummy? He has a good feel for this music but, as
on some of his other recent discs, I do feel that his way with
fioriture and ornamentation is a little 19th century,
as if he would be perfectly comfortable with something like
Rossini’s Tancredi (now that’s an idea!). If I seem a
little ambivalent about Daniels, it is because I am. But if
you are an admirer then you need look no further.
I have kept Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante till last, it is
because the disc does not really provide them with opportunities
to display their talents. The orchestral accompaniments to Pergolesi’s
three motets are pretty discreet. But within these parameters
Biondi’s accompaniments are ideal; beautifully balanced with
crisp, lively playing. The results are sharply defined and very
vivid. They provide a good contrast to the soloists and give
them ideal support. Biondi uses quite a small group, just five
strings, theorbo and organ, which gives the performances a lovely
chamber feel, very much as they must have had in their first
performances during a church service. This is worlds away from
the far grander, richer orchestral performances on some discs.
Biondi’s speeds reflect this; the disc never feels rushed but
he manages to bring the Stabat Mater in at just over
duration of the disc is a little short, just 57 minutes, and
I can’t help wishing that time could have been found to allow
Europa Galante to add a piece for strings alone as a complement
to the vocal items.
Stabat Mater and the two settings of the Salve Regina
were 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 Padrone but had been unable to repeat the success
with his next operas.
commission for the Stabat Mater from the Neapolitan Confraternita
dei Cavalier di San Luigi di Palazzo was a high prolific one;
they wanted to replace the rather old-fashioned Stabat
Mater by Alessandro Scarlatti which they used on Good Friday.
Pergolesi wrote two settings of the Salve Regina at this
period, in A minor and C minor, both for solo soprano; the C
minor version was then transposed into F minor for a contralto,
and it is this version which Daniels sings.
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 by castrati.
getting a perfect period performance is probably impossible.
Until we do start producing castrati again, this pairing of
Röschmann and Daniels with Fabio Biondi will work very well.