Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI (1710-1736)
Nel chiuso centro (chamber cantata for soprano, strings and continuo)* [16:36]
La conversione e morte di San Guglielmo duca d’Aquitania: Sinfonia to the sacred drama [4:57]
Questo è il piano (cantata for contralto, string and continuo)** [13:01]
Stabat Mater (1736?) (for soprano, contralto, strings and continuo)*/** [37:06]
Anna Netrebko (soprano)* and Marianna Pizzolato (alto)**
Orchestra dell’ Accademia di Santa Cecilia/Antonio Pappano
rec. Festspielhaus, Baden-Baden, Germany, July 2010. DDD.
Texts and translations included
Also available as Standard Edition (CD only) 477 9337
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 8857 (Prestige Edition, CD + DVD ‘Behind the Scenes’) [73:16]
Poor old Pergolesi, to whom almost everything composed in the eighteenth century that wasn’t nailed down used to be attributed - far more than he could ever have written in his short life - is now restricted to a much narrower repertoire. Most of what Stravinsky thought was by Pergolesi when he borrowed from him for his ballet-with-song Pulcinella is now known not to have been by him. What remains as firm attribution, however, is music of a high order and the works included here are very fine, even if only the Stabat Mater, together with La Serva Padrona, has received much attention - too much attention? - in the past.
The new Stabat Mater has very strong competition indeed, with recordings featuring Emma Kirkby and David Taylor (BIS BIS-SACD-1546), Sara Mingardo and Claudio Abbado (DGG’s own rival recording, Archiv 477 8077: most liked this rather better than John Sheppard - see review), Anna Prohaska, Bernarda Fink and Bernhard Forck (Harmonia Mundi HMC902072), Eileen Manahan Thomas, Robin Blaze and Florilegium (Channel CCSSA29810), Gemma Bertagnoli, Sara Mingardo and Rinaldo Alessandrini (Naïve OPS30441 or OPS30461 - see review), and Barbara Bonney, Andreas Scholl and Christophe Rousset (Decca 466 1342) to name but a few of the best of a long list of contenders.
My own favourite is the Alessandrini at mid-price - or, rather, it’s my favourite at times when I’m ready for its exaggeratedly operatic tempi. Bearing in mind that I’m not always in the mood for that, I plumped in my February 2011 Download Roundup for a recording with Gillian Fisher, Michael Chance, The King’s Consort and Robert King on Hyperion CDA66294, coupled with the equally fine Salve Regina in a minor and the less well-known In cælestibus regnis. King has an equally strong sense of baroque drama, but it’s more tempered than Alessandrini’s and his version is more liveable-with.
The new version builds on the success of the earlier partnership between Anna Netrebko, the Santa Cecilia Orchestra and Antonio Pappano in Rossini’s Stabat Mater, a recording to which Simon Thompson awarded Recording of the Month status (EMI 6405292 - see review.) Robert J Farr was somewhat less impressed, especially with Netrebko’s contribution - see review - and I shall not be surprised to see that this DG release similarly divides opinion. The only two comments on this recording on the Amazon website when I checked were both from disgruntled writers.
Anna Netrebko, Marianna Pizzolato and Antonio Pappano certainly give Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater the operatic treatment, aided and abetted by a reduced-size Santa Cecilia Orchestra, apparently coached in baroque style, in what the booklet aptly describes as ‘Italian Fire and Russian Fervour’. Despite the hype, the two solo voices blend well and the Italo-Russian partnership works so well that I find it impossible to dislike the result: more restrained than the Alessandrini, but more dramatic than the two recordings which Emma Kirkby has made, with James Bowman and Christopher Hogwood (Decca Oiseau Lyre 425 6292, mid-price) and for BIS, as listed above. Either of those two Kirkby recordings would be fine if you’re not in the mood for high drama. Alternatively, the new DG recording captures something of both without falling into that awkward and painful position between two stools, though it does it in a manner somewhat removed from Robert King’s sense of baroque style.
The main work is preceded by two chamber cantatas, one for each soloist. I particularly enjoyed Nel chiuso centro, Orpheus’s lament for Euridice, a fine addition to the recorded repertoire of music on this familiar theme. At times I wondered if Anna Netrebko was accommodating her voice sufficiently to the requirements of baroque music - something which she was very much aware that she needed to do, according to the notes - but it never becomes a serious problem. At other times I wondered if she was trying a little too hard to hold back her voice. In any case, there’s only one current rival, on a Brilliant Classics recording, also containing the Stabat Mater, and well worth considering at its super-budget price (Angharadd Gruffydd Jones, Ensemble Concerto and Timothy Brown, 93352, two CDs - see review of DVD equivalent).
After the Sinfonia to San Guglielmo, Marianna Pizzolato sings the chamber cantata Questo è il piano, another secular work on the theme of lost love. I thought Pizzolato’s contribution, here and in the Stabat Mater, no less impressive than Netrebko’s and, if anything, more suited to the baroque style.
Whether the de luxe hardback edition, with its detailed 60-page booklet and ‘behind the scenes’ DVD is worth paying extra for remains for you to decide. I haven’t seen the ‘standard’ version, but I’d be inclined to go for that if I were paying. That said, I’m not the sort of person ever to play the ‘bonus’ extras that come with DVDs of films or operas, but they may be just your thing.
With excellent singing, fine orchestral support and a set of performances which, while hardly likely to be mistaken for the product of the period-instrument school, remain broadly true to the spirit of the music, I’m sure that this CD will find a ready market. The high quality of the recorded sound is a welcome bonus.
Should find a ready market but it won’t be to all tastes.