Pergolesi: Stabat Mater

COMPOSERS: Pergolesi
LABELS: Virgin
ALBUM TITLE: Pergolesi
WORKS: Stabat Mater
PERFORMER: Dorothea Röschmann, David Daniels; Europa Galante/Fabio Biondi
CATALOGUE NO: 0946 3 63340 2 8
The reputation of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater is partly a matter of historical accident – among the last compositions of a man dying, aged 26, of tuberculosis. It is, though, a work of real craftsmanship and inspiration. The persuasive liner-note quotes contemporary comments about the ‘intrusion of worldly art into liturgical art’, contrasts of ‘tortured mysticism and fevered exaltation’. Biondi needs no further encouragement: tempos are lively at least, frenetic at times; theatricality abounds, sometimes at the expense of ‘gravitas’. The fugal ‘Fac ut ardeat’ is thrilling, but the headlong pace of the following ‘Sancta mater’ disguises the poignant semitone sighs, a wonderful harmonic inspiration permeating both voices and instruments. Elsewhere the liveliness is welcome: the off-beats which Pergolesi chose to represent the mourning and grieving of ‘Quae moerebat’ are as jolly as you’ll find, and both singers are truly inflamed in ‘Inflammatus et accensus’. Roschmann produces moments of pure magic, for example in ‘Vidit suum…’ at the point where she sings ‘He gave up the spirit’. Elsewhere she’s rather tense in the upper register. Daniels is strongly contrasting, distinctively so in duets and deeply moving in the contemplative ‘Fac ut portem…’. Two Salve Reginas are shared between the singers using Pergolesi’s optional transposition to F minor for the countertenor.

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My first choice remains that of six months ago, Waschinski and Chance on Naxos, but if you accept the level of theatrical spirit argued in both text and music here, you won’t be disappointed by Biondi. George Pratt