La Nuovo Musica perform songs by Pergolesi and JS Bach

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COMPOSERS: JS Bach * Pergolesi
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: JS Bach * Pergolesi
WORKS: Pergolesi: Stabat Mater; JS Bach: Cantatas – Widerstehe doch der Sünde, BWV 54; Vernügte Ruh! beliebte Seelenlust!, BWV 170
PERFORMER: Lucy Crowe (soprano), Tim Mead (countertenor); La Nuova Musica/ David Bates
CATALOGUE NO: HMM 907589

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Two of Bach’s most radiant cantatas for alto solo provide a contemplative frame for Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater – a work Bach so admired that he made his own German arrangement. Despite this connection, though, their sound worlds are poles apart: Bach’s – abstract and reflective; Pergolesi’s – sensuous, emotional, quasi-operatic.

Countertenor Tim Mead offers articulate readings of the cantatas, his voice (with its faint echoes of the young Andreas Scholl) is beautifully controlled, its reedy, instrumental quality yielding lovely dialogues with the ensemble. Particularly effective is the way countertenor and oboe d’amore entwine in the serene pastoral aria that opens Vergnügte Ruh! Mead is joined by Lucy Crowe in the Pergolesi, whose warm and agile soprano suits the mellifluous Italian idiom.

Director David Bates has lined up a crack team of instrumentalists, with eloquent solo contributions by oboist Patrick Beaugiraud and organist Silas Wollston. But the direction can be over-stated: bar lines and accents are heavily exaggerated, particularly in Widerstehe doch der Sünde, and some tempos are too edgy: Pergolesi’s ‘ Quae moerebat et dolebat’ sprints rather than dances; ‘Fac, ut ardeat cor meum’ sounds garbled, and the ‘Inflammatus et accensus’ is so breathless it becomes uneasy for the singers. The concluding aria of BWV 170, too, is unsettlingly brisk, so the organ flourishes sound nervous rather than joyful. It’s a pity, because in the more tranquil moments (‘Quando corpus morietur’ of the Stabat mater, for instance) the effect is poignant. Harmonia Mundi’s close perspective recording is a shade oppressive, though every detail undoubtedly cuts through.

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Kate Bolton-Porciatti