Pergolesi: Dixit Dominus

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Pergolesi
LABELS: Archiv
WORKS: Dixit Dominus; Confitebor tibi, Domine; Chi non ode e chi non vede; Salve Regina in A minor
PERFORMER: Julia Kleiter, Rachel Harnisch (soprano), Rosa Bove (mezzo-soprano); Swiss Radio & Television Chorus; Orchestra Mozart/Claudio Abbado
CATALOGUE NO: 477 8465

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 These discs complete Claudio Abbado’s three-part tribute to Pergolesi, born 200 years ago. (Disc 1 was reviewed here, 11/09.) They are most revealing, showing Pergolesi’s sureness of touch as a craftsman, melding together the old-style contrapuntal skill learnt as a student at a Conservatoire in Naples with the elegant tunefulness of contemporary Neapolitan opera.

The resulting blend is a remarkably early foretaste of the Galant style. Abbado’s choice of programme emphasises Pergolesi’s versatility and inventive genius, and at such an early age. All this music dates from 1731/36 – he died aged only 26. 

Not otherwise available on disc is the Missa S Emidio, written after the earthquakes which hit Naples in 1731/2. It’s most attractive and, in the ‘Qui tollis’, highly charged; slow, searing harmonies from the chorus and anguished violin appoggiaturas, lead to a positively perky soloist framing the hushed pleading ‘hear our prayer’. Veronica Cangemi has a bright edge to her tone, a quality rather lacking in the choir, due in part to the spaciousness of the Bolgna church in which they’re recorded, rather distantly. Sara Mingardo is superb, her long first note of ‘Domine Deus’ an object lesson in the subtle manipulation of vocal colour. 

The high point is Laudate Pueri, a thrilling setting of the Psalm text. Added horns and trumpets add a punchiness to the sound which in turn, inspires the choir. Rachel Harnisch is an exuberant soprano soloist, with an effortless top D.

It’s striking that, despite the constantly-changing nuances of the text, Pergolesi’s setting retains a strong sense of structural integrity. and sometimes rather obscured by, lively counterpoint. For the second movement, the choir’s remoteness is beautifully judged, a gentle assurance of the Lord, ‘gracious and full of compassion’ recurring in Julia Kleiter’s radiant soprano solo. Dixit Dominus stretches the forces with double choir and contrasting wind and string groupings in the orchestra. 

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In the secular cantata, Chi non ode…, Pergolesi is at his most Galant as lyrical melody unfolds above reassuringly predictable harmony. Harnisch is superb here, floating into the top register with glorious ease. After a recitative Largo stentato (laboured) as the rejected lover bewails ‘his’ fate, death is welcomed with a sparkling final presto ending with a no-less-sparkling top E flat. A fine tribute to an extraordinary genius. George Pratt