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Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743-1805)
Stabat mater, Op.61 (1800 version) [44.45]
Baron Emanuele d'ASTORGA (c.1680-1757)
Stabat mater (c.1707) [27.34]
Susan Gritton, Sarah Fox (sopranos); Susan Bickley (mezzo); Paul Agnew (tenor); Peter Harvey (bass); Choir of the King's Consort Choir; King's Consort/Robert King
rec. 1999, St-Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London

When this reissued CD was originally released back in 1999 (Hyperion CDA67108), its coupling of the two settings of the Stabat mater by Boccherini and d'Astorga was unique in the catalogues, and it remains unique today. Indeed although there are a number of rivals available of the Boccherini work, the d'Astorga doesn't appear to have been otherwise recorded at all since then; there had been some earlier issues. Moreover the Stabat mater is the only surviving sacred composition by d'Astorga, and his posthumous reputation - such as it was - seems to have been nourished rather by scandalous stories about his chequered life and career rather than any actual acquaintance with his music. Robert King's booklet notes refer to "more than one hundred and fifty" surviving chamber cantatas but it looks as if none of these have been recorded - at least as far as I can discover.

One might suspect that d'Astorga's reputation during his lifetime could be put down purely to his status as an amateur nobleman who was (despite a history of debt) able to afford performances, and that his subsequent neglect indeed proved his standing to be little higher than that. In fact the work is considerably more than that, and the fecundity of melodic invention testifies to his career also as a composer of operas which were popular with the public at the time although only one Act of his opera Dafni is now extant. He is therefore rather more than just a dilettante going through the baroque motions. This recording rather makes the listener wish to hear his other music. His contrapuntal technique is pretty good, too.

Not that Boccherini's choral output other than the Stabat mater is any better known. In the current catalogues the original 1781 version is represented by a Warner Apex reissue of a performance under Claudio Scimone, which might seem tempting in the same price bracket. However, we know from bitter experience that dismally minimal presentation by Apex will rob us of any hopes of being supplied with texts, translations (including the concert arias with which their performance is coupled) or indeed any notes on the music whatsoever. By comparison, Hyperion reproduce in its entirety the contents of the booklet from the original full-price issue. This also enables us to hear Boccherini's 1800 revision which added a second soprano and a tenor to the original scoring for solo soprano alone. This adds greater variety to the texture, and is all the more valuable in that most of the rival versions - if not all - revert to Boccherini's original version. However, it was the revised version that was published by the composer, and the work became known in this form; the original for soprano and chamber ensemble was not rescued from manuscript until the twentieth century. Under the circumstances there is a great deal to be said for hearing the work given in the manner that the composer expected. For that reason as well as others this recording remains especially valuable.

The performances, as one would expect from these artists, are very good indeed as is the quality of the original Hyperion recording. This is a most welcome reissue which should help to give it a new lease of life.

Paul Corfield Godfrey

Previous reviews: David Barker and Gerald Fenech (original release)


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