A pair of very rare sacred works, one by a well-known prolific composer of
instrumental works not associated with sacred choral works, the other by a
composer whose name will not have been known to many readers here, your
reviewer included. This is a re-issue on Hyperion's budget Helios
line; the original release was reviewed
very favourably on these pages.
Boccherini's flamboyant style, as evidenced in his guitar quintets, is not
in evidence here. This is sparely scored, and the vocal contributions are
limited to the three soloists, Gritton, Fox and Agnew, solo and in various
combinations. It is not clear what prompted his excursion into sacred music,
though the work is undoubtedly influenced by the famous Pergolesi setting,
employing the same key of F minor. The original 1781 version was for solo
soprano only, the later revision expanding the vocal corps. The standout
movements are the soprano duet 'Eia mater' and the closing trio "Quando
d'Astorga was known for his vocal music, but the circumstances behind the
composition of this work are even more shrouded in mystery than the
Boccherini. Even the date is unknown; the only certainty is that it predates
Pergolesi's. If you wish to know what little there is known of his life,
apparently a rather wild one, I commend you to the
for this release, but I will quote Robert King's excellent
notes "in the eighteenth century a musical nobleman, during the nineteenth
century a folk hero, and in the twentieth-oblivion". The work is scored for
SATB soloists and choir. Again the "Eia mater" appeals but here it is a
choral setting. The final movement is relatively upbeat, in contrast to the
bittersweet stillness that ends the Boccherini.
The instrumental contribution of the seven players is relatively limited,
but always impeccable. The sound quality is excellent, intimate and
immediate but without the common distraction of inhalations and sniffs that
often come from overly close miking.
In 1999, recordings of these two works must have been thin on the ground.
There are half a dozen or so of the Boccherini now, but most seem to be more
recent, while the d'Astorga has a couple of other recordings. Given the
budget price, this is a winning combination.