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Il Pergolese
Ogne pena cchiù spietata [5:57]
Amen/ Fac Ut Portem [11:20]
Sinfonia for violoncello [3:08]
Chi disse ca la femmena [10:02]
Tre giorni son che Nina [4:42]
Fremente [3:13]
In compagnia d’amore I [4:11]
In compagnia d’amore II [3:46]
Dolente [7:18]
Maria Pia De Vito (voice)
François Couturier (piano)
Anja Lechner (cello)
Michele Rabbia (percussion, electronics)
rec. December 2013, Auditorio Radiotelevisione Svizzera, Lugano
ECM NEW SERIES 2340 [59:16]

This release is an unusual tribute to Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736), bringing together well-known ECM artists François Couturier, Anja Lechner and Michele Rabbia with singer Maria Pia De Vito who here makes her ECM debut. With a strong improvisational element in the project she is a key partner, having long been active in improvisation and jazz with musical partners including John Taylor and Ralph Towner. Her translation of the texts into Neapolitan adds another personal angle to the final result.
These tracks are arrangements and interpretations of Pergolesi’s music which draw on the sensitivity of an authentic period performance, placed in an entirely contemporary setting which has strong flavours of jazz and some of ‘world’ music. Most of the material is taken from Pergolesi’s famous Stabat Mater, and the title listed as improvisations also make reference to his Nun sic hella ch’io lassaje and tu di saper procura. It is intriguing to hear what the musicians make of tunes and harmonies which are at once familiar and at the same time often strangely elusive.
Maria Pia De Vito’s voice is very fine, and in no way comparable with your operatic diva. The lines which soar over gentle accompaniments in the second track’s Amen is a good example of depth in expression performed with a superb economy of means. This music is turned into a flowing waltz which charms as well as moves, moving effortlessly into the Fac Ut Portem in a glowingly transparent setting.
The recording is of the type which will be familiar to ECM fans with the instruments bathing in rich resonance, the lines from the piano given a legato feel and any kind of urgency in the music reined in towards a feel of nocturnal classiness. There are ‘experimental’ sections, such as the pointillist percussion sounds which develop in the Sinfonia for violoncello, but there is nothing threatening - more an aura of mild mystery than anything to shock the mother-in-law. The playing is always beautiful and restrained, much as it would be in a conventional Pergolesi concert, though there is some drama in the Chi disse ca la femmena which in this case wouldn’t sound entirely out of place in Bizet’s Carmen, and subsequently your local belly-dance demo.
The electronics are another element usually used with sensitivity and restraint. You’ll be intrigued to hear the first bars of Schoenberg’s Farben from the Five Orchestral Pieces pressed into use in In compagnia d’amore I. While this title is a little heavy on the high-pitched whine type of noise it still manages to stay more or less in idiom. In compagnia d’amore II is more a kind of free jazz-improv but with flourishes of the baroque, the cello just about keeping our toes in early music sonority-land. This leads us into the final atmospheric Dolente, a fittingly haunting conclusion to a recording which will stick around in your mind and keep tempting you back for more.
This is a release which unites the familiar with, if you are used to the ECM aesthetic, the equally familiar. It is fascinating to hear how Pergolesi’s immortal music can be transformed into a contemporary musical environment. With performing as sublime as this the results are always going to be something rather special. You won’t go for this if you are only interested in Pergolesi in his ‘original’ form, but if you are prepared to extend your horizons to embrace a collective re-invention of some heavenly music then you might be pleasantly surprised.
Dominy Clements