Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI (1710-1736)
Stabat Mater [38:16]; Violin Concerto in B flat major [12:19]; Salve Regina in C minor [13:57]
Rachel Harnisch (soprano); Julia Kleiter (soprano); Sara Mingardo (contralto); Giuliano Carmignola (violin); Orchestra Mozart/Claudio Abbado
rec. Auditorium Teatro Manzoni, Bologna, November 2007
Latin texts and French, German and English translations included
ARCHIV PRODUKTION 477 8077 [64:32]

No sooner have the anniversary celebrations in 2009 for Purcell, Handel, Haydn and Mendelssohn stopped than the next set are underway. Pergolesi is likely to be one of the main beneficiaries in 2010.

The present disc is apparently the first of three Pergolesi offerings conducted by Claudio Abbado, all recorded at live concerts in Bologna. Incidentally, all three items on this disc are undoubtedly by Pergolesi, a composer whose name was often attached to other composers’ works by careless or unscrupulous publishers. Abbado previously recorded the Stabat Mater some 25 years ago with Margaret Marshall and Lucia Valentini-Terrani. That was a performance of great elegance and understanding, and I had hoped that the present performance would have similar merits.

There are essentially two ways of approaching this work today. Either the performers can emphasise its innate lyricism and melodic attractiveness, or they can take a more rhetorical approach. My two favorite versions – that with Mirella Freni and Teresa Berganza, nearly forty years old now, and that with Gemma Bertagnolli and Sara Mingardo (with Concerto Italiano under Rinaldo Allessandrini), some ten years old, exemplify these approaches. I find myself going to one or the other when I want to hear the work. The present performance takes something of a middle line. The sheer beauty of the music is certainly all there, but neither it nor its more dramatic qualities are emphasised. Rather, the work is treated in a more elegiac manner. This may well appeal to some, but, for me at least, the result is a respectful and clear performance that fails to move or even to hold my interest for long. Both singers are on fine form, although Sara Mingardo sings with much more character on her earlier version.

The other items are more successful. The Violin Concerto has not only the ease and charm which one might expect from the composer but also more variety and memorability. All is brought out ideally by Giuliano Carmignola. Similarly in the Salve Regina Julia Kleiter shows real character in her singing. The recording of all three works is clear and there are interesting notes by Werner Pfister. Nonetheless the disc is likely to stand or fall by reactions to the main work. For me the performance lacks the kind of positive virtues that this music cries out for but as I have explained earlier others may react more positively. It is certainly worth sampling to see whether it is likely to be to your taste.

John Sheppard