Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater with Sonya Yoncheva and Karine Deshayes

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COMPOSERS: Pergolesi
LABELS: Sony
ALBUM TITLE: Pergolesi
WORKS: Pergolesi: Stabat Mater; F Durante: Concerto No. 1 in F minor; F Mancini: Sonata No. 14 in G minor
PERFORMER: Sonya Yoncheva (soprano), Karine Deshayes (mezzo); Ensemble Amarillis/Héloïse Gaillard, Violaine Cochard
CATALOGUE NO: 88985369642

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Operatic stars meet early music on this live recording, made last year at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. Success is mixed. The 26-year-old Pergolesi composed his Stabat Mater as he lay dying of tuberculosis. The work of a genius cut down, its restless pulses, strained suspensions and inexorable walking basses mix pathos with beauty. This mix, in all its shades, only partly emerges in this performance. Sonya Yoncheva brings to her lines a fragile sensitivity that astonished me, given the power of her voice. But Karine Deshayes – a more seasoned Baroque singer than Yoncheva – gets in the way of the ideas of the Ensemble Amarillis. Deshayes tends to slow the pulse after entries, and lag behind at phrase endings. Whereas Yoncheva drains colours from her voice for melancholic passages, Deshayes doesn’t, making their blend uneven. Deshayes even sneaks in a couple of scoops in the final movement, as if this were Bellini; the applauding audience seems to have taken this as a coup de théâtre, but for home listening it could quickly pall.

The Ensemble Amarillis plays with great charm. To accompany Pergolesi it has dug up little-known chamber works by Francesco Mancini and Francesco Durante. Héloïse Gaillard, a recorder star in her own right, leads fizzy fioratura in the Mancini as boldly as she does strict counterpoint in the Durante. Equally remarkable is this disc’s sound quality: its intimacy sounds like a studio recording. I’d buy it for its instrumental tracks – and, if you’re a Yoncheva fan, possibly for its Stabat Mater.

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Berta Joncus