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Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI (1710-1736)
Stabat Mater [46:33]
Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660- 1725)
Stabat Mater [46:39]
Concerti grossi Nos. 1-6 [49:45]
Mirella Freni (soprano); Teresa Berganza (mezzo-soprano)
Solisti dell’Orchestra ‘Scarlatti’ di Napoli/Ettore Gracis
Orchestra de Chambre Paul Kuentz/Sir Charles Mackerras (Scarlatti)
rec. November 1967, La Sala d’Ercole, Palazzo Reale, Naples (concertos); March 1972, Sala Grande, Conservatorio ‘San Pietro a Maiella’, Naples (Pergolesi); October 1975, Église Notre Dame du Liban, Paris (Scarlatti: Stabat Mater)
Text and translations into French, German & English
Presto CD
ARCHIV PRODUKTION 459 454-2 [71:00 + 68:09]

Given that they were recorded between around forty and fifty years ago, it is futile to approach this attractive compilation of three baroque masterworks expecting them to show evidence of much period awareness, but there is still much here to delight both the bel canto connoisseur who already has recordings reflecting more modern performance practice by such as Rousset and the general lover of baroque chamber music. These are recordings which have held their place in the catalogue for many years now and still attract plaudits by virtue of their energy and musicianship.

Their virtues are evident. First, a reduced-size orchestras in the two liturgical works, which helps combat "soupiness" and even allows for some agility in faster movements such as the duos, which are surprisingly pacy for a performance which mostly errs on the side of languorous indulgence, expressive rubato and even slides. Secondly, two of the loveliest voices of that or any time, which blend very well, exhibit excellent trills and an intrinsically velvety timbre, both with a touch of the smokiness which lends pathos. Thirdly, both works are now available in Presto’s bargain re-issue ‘twofer’ with all six of Scarlatti’s Concerti grossi as a very substantial bonus.

Of course, you will have to be tolerating mannerisms belonging to another age and now frowned upon, such as the leisureliness of the opening tempo and Freni's habit of swooping expressively and using portamenti of a semi-tone and more before most of her higher notes (such as the F sharp to G in the "Qui est homo" duo). Berganza, however, is cleaner in her attack and stylistically more appealing to modern ears; I also do not recall ever or elsewhere hearing her voice sound richer and more plangent.

I think there is no doubt that Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater is the greater work but the advantage of also having all six of Scarlatti’s Concert grossi in one collection is obvious. They, too, are played in decidedly old-fashioned style and not necessarily the worse for that if, like me, you sometimes enjoy baroque music played in the way, Karajan, for example, treats Handel's masterpieces in the same genre; there will always be a place for it if you are non-doctrinaire. Scarlatti's own essays in this style are not as great as Handel's but things like the seductive suspended harmonies in the Largo movements, the rigorous fugues and the animated tarantella dances are very pleasing and inventive, and they are rendered here with great affection and musicality.

The sound in all these recordings has always been fine, the orchestra in Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater being just a little opaque and distant with the voices considerably further forward in the sound picture, whereas they are more integrated into the more resonant acoustic of Scarlatti’s, which was made in a church rather than in a palace concert room.

Ralph Moore

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