Pergolesi, A Scarlatti

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COMPOSERS: A Scarlatti,Pergolesi
LABELS: Opus 111
WORKS: Stabat mater; Stabat mater
PERFORMER: Gemma Bertagnolli (soprano), Sara Mingardo (contralto); Concerto Italiano/Rinaldo Alessandrini
This pairing of two settings of the Stabat mater by two of Italy’s most renowned composers, albeit from different generations, might seem an obvious one. But Alessandro Scarlatti’s setting is a work that almost since it was written has been shrouded in obscurity. The current catalogue lists only one other recording, on the Hungaroton label, and it seems that the work is still not readily available in a modern edition – Rinaldo Alessandrini, director of the superb Concerto Italiano, has had to turn to an early manuscript, not an autograph, in Florence. It’s a vividly conceived, ornate, somewhat dense work, akin in manner to this composer’s many secular cantatas, scored like the Pergolesi for two soloists, soprano (here the excellent Gemma Bertagnolli) and alto (the equally fine Sara Mingardo), with two violin lines and continuo. There are some bold touches of harmony and telling juxtapositions of metre and texture that serve to sustain a sense of variety. As Alessandrini’s notes suggest, the contrast with Pergolesi’s more straightforward, melody-oriented setting is fascinating, illustrating the fundamental change in taste that occurred in Italian music during the first decades of the 18th century. Performances of both works are exemplary and hugely touching. Mingardo, particularly, has a wonderfully fruity voice which extends without any sense of strain to baritonal regions in her aria ‘Fac ut portem Christi mortem’ in the Pergolesi. In that work, Alessandrini has many rivals, ranging from similarly sized groups, with or without period-style instruments, to the massed strings of symphony orchestras. Emma Kirkby and James Bowman, with Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music on L’Oiseau-Lyre, provide one of the benchmark recordings in the period-style mould, but I think the ravishing sounds of this version mean that it overtakes that one. Stephen Pettitt