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Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI (1710-1736)
Messa di San Emidio (Missa Romana) (1734) [30.06]
Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660–1725)
Messa per il Santissimo Natale (1707) [27.54]
Concerto Italiano/Rinaldo Alessandrini
rec. January 2008, Parco della musica, Sala del Coro, Rome, Italy
NAÏVE OP30461 [58.00]
Experience Classicsonline

Pergolesi’s Messa di S. Emidio
(Missa Romana) is one of his two authentic masses; there are in fact seven others attributed to him. Both of his surviving masses consist of just a Kyrie and a Gloria. The CD booklet for this recording describes the format as a Missa Brevis type, though there is nothing brief about this mass; it is pretty substantial.

This Pergolesi mass was originally performed in 1732 at a service of dedication when St. Emygdius (San Emidio) was adopted as one of the patron saints of Naples. Pergolesi subsequently added further choirs to the piece, to make it even grander. In 1734 it was performed in Rome at San Lorenzo in Lucina; Pergolesi was brought to Rome especially for the performance. A contemporary description of the mass describes it as terrifying. It may be relevant that San Emidio protected against earthquakes.

This new disc from Rinaldo Alessandrini and Concerto Italiano would seem to record the Roman version of the mass but this is unclear from the CD booklet. Pergolesi created versions of the mass for soli and choir, two choirs and four choirs but listening to the disc - and given the numbers in the chorus - we would seem to have a recording of the version for two choirs. Here is it is performed by a vocal ensemble of ten and an instrumental ensemble of nineteen.

The mass opens with a wonderfully dramatic coup, held voices coming in one after another building to a climax, all over a lively rushing orchestra. Pergolesi repeats the effect in the Gloria and this pretty much defines the mass. As performed by Concerto Italiano it is certainly thrilling. For the remainder, Pergolesi keeps changing the musical textures between sections, though the very small choral forces used by Alessandrini mean that it is sometimes difficult to differentiate between solo passages and choral. This differentiation is probably necessary as Pergolesi writes some solos in a very elaborate, quasi-operatic manner.

Alessandrini’s speeds are on the brisk side, though his instrumentalists follow him implicitly and create an exciting and lively performance. The singers are very impressive in the way they articulate the faster sections, though there are one or two moments when it might have been better if Alessandrini had eased up his tempi. The solo soprano’s rather operatic moments are performed creditably rather than with stunning bravura. But generally this is a vivid performance of a fascinating work.

Naïve have paired the Pergolesi with Alessandro Scarlatti’s Missa per il Santissimio Natale. This Christmas mass was written in 1707 when Scarlatti was maestro di cappella at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.  Scarlatti’s handling of the double chorus is strictly traditional, with the two choirs used as two blocks of sound. In fact, this is pretty much the way Pergolesi handles his chorus as well; in many way’s Pergolesi’s mass was rather old-fashioned for the time.

Scarlatti’s innovation is to give the orchestra an independent part, not doubling the choirs, giving the piece a striking richness. Also the violins are treated independently, which in effect creates a third choir. Scarlatti uses a ritornello played by the violins to link the various sections of the mass; this ritornello appears five times throughout the work.

My comments on the Pergolesi would apply equally well to the Scarlatti. Alessandrini’s speeds are quite fast, but the performance lively and vivid.

Neither of these pieces would be a perfect masterpiece. But Concerto Italiano’s performances are vibrant and involving, the perfect way to get to know these charming and inventive works.

Robert Hugill


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