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Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI (1710–1736)
Stabat Mater (1736) [33.18]
Salve Regina in F minor (1736) [13.04] (1)
Salve Regina in A minor (1736) [10.22] (2)
Dorothea Röschman (soprano) (2)
David Daniels (counter-tenor) (1)
Europa Galante/Fabio Biondi (violin and direction)
rec. 6-9, 11-14 August 2005, Studio Flagey, Brussels
VIRGIN CLASSICS 0946 3 63340 2 8 [57.13] 
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How 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.

Both 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.

It 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.

Röschmann 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. 

Daniels’ 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. 

If 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 thirty minutes. 

The 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.

The 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. 

The 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. 

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 by castrati. 

So 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. 

Robert Hugill



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