Verdi: Four Sacred Pieces
Antonio Pappano and his Santa Cecilia forces brought this choral collection to the Proms in July, and it makes a worthwhile programme on disc, too. The Four Sacred Pieces – late religious works by a composer who was anything but a conventional believer – are comparatively well known. Two of them, the Te Deum and the Stabat Mater, are on a substantial scale, despite the economy of their writing, in which nothing is overstated or unnecessarily repeated. Pappano captures the starkness of the Stabat Mater, in particular, following through its intense visionary line; but he also empowers the sudden, tremendous climaxes of the Te Deum, while in the smaller, unaccompanied refinements of the Ave Maria and the Laudi, the Roman chorus shapes the music sensitively.
Less familiar is the 1880 Ave Maria, which explores similar musical territory to the well‑known aria that Desdemona sings in Act IV of Otello, first performed in 1887. Here soloist Maria Agresta is able to display the warmth and tenderness of her soprano in music that suits it extremely well, as she does in the far more dramatic 1869 Libera Me. The first stirrings of the piece that would later grow into Verdi’s Requiem, it was originally composed as his contribution to a Mass jointly written in memory of Rossini. Though much of the fundamental material is the same, the later version is superior. Once again, Pappano’s blend of deep understanding and infallible instinct helps him arrive at a performance of unusual conviction.