WORKS: Stabat mater
PERFORMER: Susan Gritton, Sarah Fox (soprano), Susan Bickley (mezzo-soprano), Paul Agnew (tenor), Peter Harvey (bass); The King’s Consort &Choir/Robert King
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67108
The contemplation of the Virgin Mary’s sorrow at the foot of the cross, and the Christian aspiration to share it, has inspired some wonderfully bitter-sweet music. Most familiar is Pergolesi’s setting, recalled almost explicitly in Boccherini’s final trio, where two sopranos and tenor create an ecstatic stillness. The solo voices are well matched, two sopranos floating together as in their longing to share the Virgin’s grief – though such timbral similarity weakens the logic of imitation between the voices elsewhere. The performance is first-rate, bar an unstable moment near the very opening. Accompanying strings, one-to-a-part, are fresh and intimate, with subtle textures – pizzicato cello colouring the accompaniment of a soprano solo for instance.
But the greater delight comes second: d’Astorga’s setting, barely known today, was frequently performed in his own time, the early 18th century. The music has a charming logic spiced with surprises. The opening chorus (here 18 flexible voices) lulls the ear with predictable phrases until a harmonic quirk disturbs the senses. There’s an alluring double duet, opening with gorgeous, unaffected tone from Susan Bickley; strings alternate with voices in intensely concentrated dialogue; harmonic sequences lift the spirit. A disc of heartfelt music fervently performed. George Pratt