Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Sonata ‘al Santo Sepolcro’ in E flat major RV130 [4:20]
Stabat Mater RV621 (1711-12) [19:02]
Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI (1710-1736)
Salve Regina (1735-36) [13:40]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Tilge, Höchster, Meine Sünden (Psalm 51) - transcription of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater (c.1741-46) [36:45]
Daniel Taylor (counter-tenor)
Emma Kirkby (soprano) (Bach)
Theatre of Early Music
rec. February 2005, Grand Séminaire, Montreal (Vivaldi, Pergolesi); February 2006, Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours, Montreal (Bach)
BIS BIS-SACD-1546 [74:50]

A disc as lovely as this should not be overlooked. Vivaldi’s Stabat Mater has hardly lacked for fine recordings over the years but here we have a performance of real distinction and allure. The Theatre of Early Music is a small band - two violins, a viola, cello and bass, with lute and organ - but its tempo decisions and internal balancing are both exemplary. Articulation is crisp - note the cleanly articulated cello line - and the timbral qualities of the string are auspicious. Rhythms are buoyant, and the expressive qualities of the music are held in fine balance. To turn to specifics, the Quis est homo is rendered with delicate refinement, a legato melsima of real eloquence. Daniel Taylor evinces no sense of forcing his counter tenor, and no glorying in its very obvious qualities for the sake of it; some other counter tenors should take note. The tempo for the slow Fac ut ardeat is judged to perfection, with its sense of motion ensuring that the textual meaning is perfectly conveyed.  I suppose that Scholl [HMC 801571] and Robin Blaze [Hyperion CDA66799] are the two outstanding contenders in this work at the moment. Taylor most closely resembles Blaze in ethos, though I prefer the newcomer’s performance all round. Scholl’s is a more extrovert performance, fine, if you prefer to shy away from the more veiled intimacies that Taylor explores.

Pergolesi’s compact Salve Regina again evinces strongly meditative qualities in this performance, so those seeking more fulsome, or speedier virtues will need to seek elsewhere. It’s difficult to ensure a good balance in the lento movement Ad te suspiramus but Taylor and his forces manage it well. The last work is a curiosity, hyphenated Bach-Pergolesi, as it were. This is a transcription by Bach of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater and was made some time around 1746-48, a good while after the Italian composer’s early 1736 death.  Bach added extra instrumental lines, added to the bass continuo, and even added movements, rendering the text in a German translation.  Here Taylor is joined by Emma Kirkby and their rapport is obvious, the voices well blended, and as before the reflective sense of the chosen tempi conveys a great deal. It’s a very natural, unforced performance with no extraneous gestures, vocal or instrumental, to distract. Verse 4 - Dich erzürnt - is especially finely conceived but it’s invidious to select highlights. The depth and pathos (try Denn du willst (verses 17-18)) are everywhere apparent.

The purely instrumental Sonata ‘al Santo Sepolcro’ by Vivaldi serves as the disc’s opening item - an Easter movement chosen with acumen and played with tactile excellence by the string players.

With a natural and sympathetic recording and helpful booklet notes this reflective disc brings impressive and sensitive qualities to bear, and should on no account be overlooked.

Jonathan Woolf