Pergolesi: Marian Vespers

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Pergolesi
WORKS: Marian Vespers
PERFORMER: Sophie Daneman, Noemi Kiss (soprano); New College Choir, Oxford, Academy of Ancient Music/Edward Higginbottom
CATALOGUE NO: 0927-46684-2
Malcolm Bruno describes this as his ‘reconstruction’ of Pergolesi’s Vespers. It is more a new ‘construction’, gathering together an introit and two psalms probably performed in Naples in 1732, but adding earlier and later pieces. He fills the remaining gaps with ‘contrafacta’ by adding sacred words to a secular cantata. While the mix is uneven, some entrancing and barely known music emerges.


The opening introit is probably a student piece, fragmentary and predictable, as are sections of the psalm settings: containing each short verse within one musical number results in a series of undeveloped statements. Elsewhere, though, the scale is bigger. ‘Confiteor’ (Psalm 110) includes a fine aria with the choir interjecting a quiet refrain; in ‘Laudate pueri’, Noemi Kiss is gloriously lyrical over a strikingly wide range. Best is the familiar solo, ‘Salve regina’, shared here, strangely enough, by the two sopranos singing in turn.

Both orchestra and choir are larger-scaled than their 18th-century equivalents. The AAM fields 26 strings as well as required wind, and 32 New College singers have a familiar cathedral quality, a density well beyond that of Pergolesi’s few- or one-to-a-part circumstances. They sing, though, admirably cleanly and with rousing verve, notably in the Handelian opening to the newly-contrived Magnificat. The words do not always sit comfortably below the notes of this contrafactum – in a da capo aria, the musical repeat is to unexpectedly new text.


Daneman and Kiss are well matched, though aptly different in character. Other soloists (from the choir) and two string sonata ensembles are excellent – as is the recorded sound. George Pratt