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Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI (1710-1736)
Stabat Mater (1736) [48:03]
Thia Genova (soprano), Neli Bozhkova (mezzo)
Bodra Smyana Manécanterie/Lilyana Bocheva,
Studio Concertante/Vassil Kazandjiev
rec. 1994?, venue not identified
JADE 699785-2 [48:03]

The Pergolesi Stabat Mater is a justifiably famous choral work, if a little unusual in being scored for women’s voices only. This recording, interesting as it is, needs a bit of a ‘health warning’. The choir is a children’s choir from Sofia in Bulgaria - manécanterie being an old French word for a choir of this nature. Although their singing has a delightful freshness, it doesn’t have the weight of tone or the expressive range we normally expect in this music from adult choirs. Try as I may, I haven’t been able to trace any further details of where or exactly why this recording was made.
 
As I listened to the ponderous opening, with the strings of Studio Concertante under Vassil Kazandjiev, I feared the worst. Yes, this is a piece with a solemn, even tragic text - the feelings of Mary mother of Christ as she contemplates Him on the cross - but you really don’t want your audience to lose the will to live. However, things quickly improved with the entry of the fresh-voiced choir. These are seriously good choristers, though no doubt very young. Their singing in, for example, the chorus ‘O quam tristis’ is remarkably lovely, taking the high B flats with bright-toned ease. There is also some enjoyable solo singing, in particular that of mezzo Neli Bozhkova, though some will find the very Eastern European Latin pronunciation rather hard to decipher.
 
Other problems are as much the composer’s fault as anyones; the chorus ‘Inflammatus et accensus’, whose words invoke the flames of Hell, is a jolly little number, more ‘Nymphs and Shepherds’ than ‘Dies Irae’.
 
A very singular issue, then and ultimately disappointing. It’s not one to contemplate buying if you are simply after a recording of this charming if immature work, composed in the final year of Pergolesi’s very short life. There are some splendid accounts available, both on DVD and CD, in which format Abbado’s version with the LSO is particularly fine.
 
Gwyn Parry-Jones