Pergolesi: L’Olimpiade

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Pergolesi
LABELS: Deutsche Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: L’Olimpiade
PERFORMER: Raffaella Milanesi, Ann-Beth Solvang, Olga Pasichnyk, Jennifer Rivera, Martin Oro, Jeffrey Francis, Markus Brutscher; Academia Montis Regalis/Alessandro de Marchi
CATALOGUE NO: Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 88697807712

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This world premiere recording crackles with excitement. Bubbling tempos sweep us through a story of love’s swingeing consequences. What evidently fired Pergolesi’s imagination in this libretto is its intermingling of heroism with humanism. To win the prize of Aristea’s hand in an Olympic competition, Licida engages his best friend, a prize athlete, to impersonate him. This friend was formerly betrothed to Aristea, but dares not tell Licida – whose own earlier lover, thought dead, lives in disguise at Aristea’s court, and must watch Licida throw himself at Aristea. Pergolesi’s unique style – lilting melodies, throbbing pulses, suspensions – makes his music at once passionate and, as needed, tongue-in-cheek. We feel the lovers’ pain, joy and despair; we also hear Pergolesi gently mocking their gullibility.

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The score’s greatest challenge lies in telling a story through persistently repeated motifs, sections and rhythmic cells. Thanks to de Marchi’s deft contouring, this drama emerges naturally. With some minor exceptions, his cast cunningly extracts the characters implied in the score. Volatility lurks just beneath the surface of Raffaella Milanesi’s Aristea, erupting in white-hot coloratura. The bravura of Licida shades into vulnerability through Jennifer Rivera’s occasional jagged delivery. The main drawback of this record is its long stretches of secco recitative. Why did the producers not follow the period practice of showcasing favourite arias without the recitative, as often happened in manuscript collections of the time? Berta Joncus