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Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI (1710 - 1736)
Cantatas and Concertos

Nel chiuso centro (L'Orfeo) [16:54]
Concerto in B flat [13:52]
Luce degli occhi miei [11:13]
Sinfonia in F [7:24]
La Maddalena al sepolcro [17:51]
Valentina Varriale (soprano: Maddalena), Mauro Borgioni (baritone: L'Orfeo, Luce), Mauro Squillante (mandolin: concerto), Renato Criscuolo (cello: sinfonia)
Mvsica Perdvta/Renato Criscuolo
rec. 11-13 November 2012, Centro Studi Europeo di Musica Medioevale 'Adolfo Broegg', Spello (Umbria), Italy. DDD
Texts included, no translations
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94763 [67:24]

The name of Pergolesi is almost exclusively associated with two works: the Stabat mater and the intermezzo La Serva padrona. Now and then other music from his pen is performed and recorded, such as his opera L'Olimpiade (deutsche harmonia mundi, 2011). Considering that he died very young it is not surprising that his oeuvre is rather small in comparison to the amount of music written by many of his contemporaries. The worklist in New Grove includes many pieces of doubtful authenticity. Pergolesi quickly rose to fame and that explains that compositions by others were attributed to him in order to increase their dissemination. The three vocal items on the present disc are recorded here for the first time, but that is only in realtion to the form in which they are performed.
 
The programme opens with Nel chiuso centro, also known as L'Orfeo. It was originally written for soprano, strings and bc, but we hear it in a version for baritone. The same goes for Luce degli occhi miei, also conceived for soprano. The baritone versions have been found in the library of the Sacro Convento in Assisi. Renato Criscuolo and Luca Marzetti, in their liner-notes, suggest that Pergolesi, who was from Jesi in the east of Italy, "would often have passed by Assisi on his way to Naples. It is very possible that he stayed there as a guest of the monks, who at the time provided hospitality for pilgrims, wayfarers and travellers". During one of his stays he may have left some of his compositions at the monastery.
 
I don't know how plausible this is. I can't imagine that Pergolesi, considering the means of transport of his days, often travelled between Naples and his hometown. There were many ways for an institution such as a monastery to collect music by the famous masters of the time. The two secular cantatas in the form in which they are performed here, all date from after Pergolesi's death. It is impossible to prove, but very likely that these arrangements are not from Pergolesi's pen. One wonders why a monastery would wish to collect secular cantatas. Maybe they were performed as part of the entertainment for the monks. The fact that they were scored for baritone could point in this direction. I have the impression that the interpreters give a very good performance. It is not really possible to assess how they deal with the text as the booklet includes the lyrics but omits any translations. The recitatives are taken with the right amount of rhythmic liberty, and Mauro Borgioni delivers a differentiated performance. L'Orfeo is the most dramatic piece, and that comes off well here, also thanks to the engaging instruments which Pergolesi has used to illustrate the text. Luci degli occhi miei is more lyrical and receives a convincing interpretation as well.
 
The last item is especially interesting. La Maddalena al sepolcro is an arrangement of the first cantata, L'Orfeo. It dates from 1743 and this could also be motivated by the wish to have something by the most famous master of his time to perform in the monastery. It is not suitable for the liturgy, but could well serve for the spiritual edification of the monks. It is remarkable that large parts of the text have remained unchanged. The second recitative is different from that in the original version and as a result receives a less dramatic interpretation. Valentina Varriale delivers a fine performance.
 
The Concerto in B flat is again an arrangement. It was originally scored for violin, and is one of the few authentic instrumental works by Pergolesi. It is performed here in a transcription for mandolin by the Neapolitan mandolin player Gaspare Gabellone. The manuscript is kept in the library of a Neapolitan conservatory. The mandolin was a popular instrument at the time. As there are not that many solo concertos for this instrument, this version is an important addition to the repertoire, especially considering its quality.
 
The Sinfonia in F is the only piece here which is performed as it was written by Pergolesi. It was composed for Duke Francesco Carafa, to whom Pergolesi's colleague Leonardo Leo dedicated his six cello concertos which today are very much part of the standard repertoire of cellists. This sinfonia is a fine piece and is well played by Renato Criscuolo although a shade too rigid in the fast movements. I would also have preferred a more airy basso continuo part. The use of a double bass, a harpsichord, an organ and a colascione seems a little exaggerated.
 
Whether or not the versions recorded here are from Pergolesi's pen, it is nice to have them on disc in such good performances. The music is enjoyable, and this programme bears witness to Pergolesi's reputation in his time and the wide-spread practice of arrangement and transcription in the baroque era.

Johan van Veen
http://www.musica-dei-donum.org
https://twitter.com/johanvanveen