Pergolesi: Stabat Mater

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COMPOSERS: Pergolesi
LABELS: Channel Classics
WORKS: Stabat Mater
PERFORMER: Elin Manahan Thomas (soprano), Robin Blaze (countertenor), Jennifer Morsches (cello); Florilegium/ Ashley Solomon (flute)
CATALOGUE NO: CCS SA 29810

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The 300th anniversary of Pergolesi’s birth is marked by another contribution to the many recordings of his Stabat Mater. They range from the ethereal male soprano of Jörg Waschinski with Michael Chance (Naxos) to Gillian Fisher and Chance again (Hyperion) from 1987, still among the best.

This new disc matches the competition in vocal quality and excels in the clarity of Florilegium’s single strings. Above all, the spaciousness of its surround-sound recording is often breathtaking. Shut your eyes, and your room expands to the scale of the London church where it was recorded, bathing the sound in its glorious acoustic.

Both singers are intensely sensitive in the six descriptive and six pleadingly prayerful verses of the Stabat Mater. They have no inhibitions about Pergolesi’s operatic roots – unexpectedly jolly music reflecting Christ on the cross, a fleet prayer that ‘my soul [should] glow and melt’, Paradise observed in awesome quietness before the final dazzling ‘Amen’. 

Blaze displays his wide and even vocal range in the Salve Regina, particularly effective in the lowest register, sustaining a full-toned falsetto without any hint of gear-change to bass. Here, the recording is less expansive, compressing him and accompanying strings onto a more crowded ‘stage’.

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Of the instrumental music, one-to-a-part strings match Ashley Solomon’s flute tone to create delightful transparency in this sunny concerto, while Jennifer Morsches’s cello, almost as old as Pergolesi, is refreshingly clear, unaffected, almost gamba-like. The final movement of the Sinfonia particularly strikes modern ears, hearing the original harmonisation perversely changed by Stravinsky in his borrowing for Pulcinella. George Pratt