Pergolesi: Septum verba a Christo

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COMPOSERS: Giovanni Battista Pergolesi
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Pergolesi: Septum verba a Christo
WORKS: Septum verba a Christo
PERFORMER: Sophie Karthäuser (soprano), Christophe Dumaux (countertenor), Julien Behr (tenor), Konstantin Wolff (bass-baritone); Akademie für Alte Musik/René Jacobs


This cycle of seven cantatas sets the last words of Christ of the Cross and meditations upon them addressed to the soul (or anima) of the faithful disciple. It was long thought to be the work of Pergolesi – certainly, there are more than faint echoes of his Stabat Mater here – and the recent unearthing of forgotten manuscripts tips the balance in favour of this attribution.

The spare Gospel words are sung to plainchant, aptly stark in tone, around which the composer entwines brief recitatives and expansive arias offsetting spiritual contemplation with pleading intensity. Instrumentation symbolically underscores the mystical union of the earthly with the Divine, and the striking palette of orchestral colours includes burnished horns, a muted trumpet, plangent violas and a delicate harp that weaves an ethereal halo of sound.

In this premiere recording, René Jacobs draws a mood of passionate concentration, throwing into high relief the work’s quasi-operatic drama and the chiaroscuro effects that so poignantly reflect the transition from life to death. The four commanding soloists, including countertenor Christophe Dumaux and the sable-toned bass Konstantin Wolff, are placed up-front in the recording, so words are sharply etched. There’s some persuasive playing, too, by the Berlin ensemble: taut strings, magisterial brass and stylish continuo all bring this haunting work back to pulsating life.


Kate Bolton