Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI (1710-1736)
Sacred Works - Volume 2
Missa S.Emidio [30.01]
Veronica Cangemi (soprano); Sara Mingardo (alto);
Salve Regina in F minor [15.20]
Sara Mingardo (alto)
Laudate pueri Dominum for soprano, mezzo, chorus and orchestra [18.33]
Rachel Harnisch (soprano); Teresa Romano (mezzo)
Manca la guida al pie from La conversion e monte di San Guglielmo duca d’Aquitania (1731) [8.40]
Veronica Cangemi (soprano)
Coro della Radiotelevisione Svizzera and the Orchestra Mozart/Claudio Abbado
rec. Chiesa di Santa Cristina della Fondazza, May-June 2009

I don’t really know why, but I felt quite surprised at first when I heard that Claudio Abbado had recorded not one but three discs of sacred music by Pergolesi. This ill-fated and tragically short-lived composer was born in January 1710, so this year is the occasion for a 300 year celebration. My reaction was caused, no doubt, by having been hoodwinked over the past two decades into thinking that the baroque is the preserve of the specialist early-music performer.

Abbado has decreed that he will be making 2010 his “Pergolesi Year”. As I write the final volume of the three has now emerged.

The longest work on the disc is the Missa S.Emidio which comprises a Kyrie and a Gloria. The former takes up only four minutes at most, so the emphasis is very much on the celebratory Gloria. It seems to have been written following the earthquakes in Naples of 1731 and 1732 when “the citizens chose Saint Emidius, protector, as their patron saint and marked this with a celebration on December 31st 1732”. This is recounted in Davide Verga’s interesting booklet notes. The composer divided the work up neatly between soloists and duettists and chorus items. The Coro della Radiotelevisione Svizzera is rather large by the prevailing standards of early music performance. Abbado almost treats them as if they were singing some vast ‘Romantic’ work. Even so the singing is crisp, precise and expressive achieving exactly what the conductor seems to want. This is a rarely heard work and it should not be. There is great pathos in the ‘Qui tollis’ and ‘Qui sedes’ and unremitting joy in the opening chorus and in the final ‘Cum sancto’. Truly a find and from this recording more performances must surely arise.

For many, Pergolesi’s Salve Regina will begin rather like his incredibly moving setting of the famous ‘Stabat Mater’ with its suspensions, chromaticisms and “rapt contemplation”. The Salve Regina which is an ancient hymn to the Virgin (Hail O Queen, Mother of mercy) also ends in a similar style and mood. In between is a more lively movement, the 'Eia ergo’, and a major key, moderato, ’Et Jesum benedictum’. Sara Mingardo is generally a very controlled contralto with a beautiful tone in the slower sections. I am less happy about her prominent vibrato in the middle movements. Veronica Cangemi is a fine soprano and one unknown to me until now. Incidentally, as in the Gloria, each section of the text is separately tracked by Archiv – very useful.

When you hear the Laudate pueri Dominum you might initially consider Handel to have been a strong influence but there is something about the mezzo solo ‘A solis ortu’ and the fine fugal finale which seems to be just too Italian and rococo. No matter how you look at it this brazen D major setting of Psalm 113 is a bright affair. The exception, interestingly enough, is the first part of the ‘Gloria’ for solo soprano. It is reflective and, as Davide Verga says, “it is a religious experience intensified by the perception of human fragility”. How apt that is in Pergolesi’s case. The scoring for two soloists, chorus and an orchestra of strings with celebratory trumpets and horns as well as oboes all helps to set the mood in which the solos and chorus are, as above, evenly divided. Both Rachel Harnisch and Teresa Romano are well cast in their brief roles and both have an appropriate sense of style with immaculate diction. This all serves to enhance the impression made by this fine and original work.

An example of the expressive side of Pergolesi which may come as a surprise to those who mainly know his music through the small-scale operas like La Serva Padrona, can be heard in the all too brief Recit and Aria E dover che le luci - Manca la guida al pie from his 1731 sacred drama The Conversion and Death of Saint William, Duke of Aquitaine. It’s a curious subject, you might think, but one commissioned from the very young composer on his leaving the ‘Conservatorio de Pueri de Gesu Cristo’ in Naples where, as a violinist and composer, he had made such an impression as a teenager. This is a da capo aria and finds soloist Veronica Cangemi in very good form just as she is in the Gloria. She decorates the repeat so subtly and beautifully and is also most sensitively accompanied by Abbado’s orchestral strings. This is for me, quite the highlight of the entire disc.

Until now, choral groups have probably not considered Pergolesi as a composer that they might add to their repertoire. I am not sure at this stage how easy it is to obtain editions of this or any of his sacred music but with this disc and the others from Abbado it will surely give conductors an incentive to look again at this young composer. On reflection I feel that, had he lived, he may well have become the Italian baroque Mozart. His early talent so unfulfilled seems to indicate just that.

Gary Higginson

Subtle and beautiful … most sensitively accompanied by Abbado... see Full Review


Volume 1: Deutsche Grammophon Archiv 477 8077 Stabat Mater; Violin Concerto; Salve Regina - Giuliano Carmignola (violin), Rachel Harnisch, Sara Mingardo, Julia Kleiter; Orchestra Mozart/Claudio Abbado

Volume 3: Deutsche Grammophon Archiv 4778465 Dixit Dominus, Salve Regina in A minor, Confitebor tibi, Domine, Chi non ode e chi non vede - Rachel Harnisch, Julia Kleiter, Rosa Bove, Lucio Gallo, Coro della Radiotelevisione Svizzera, Orchestra Mozart/Claudio Abbado

Abbado’s original recording of the Pergolesi Stabat Mater can still be heard on Deutsche Grammophon 415 1032