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Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI (1710-1736)
Stabat Mater for soprano, alto, strings and continuo (1736) [36:13]
Laudate pueri Dominum for two sopranos, chorus á 5 and orchestra, [18:05]
Confitebor tibi, Domini for soprano, alto, chorus á 5 and continuo (circa pre-1732), [16:39]
Laudate pueri Dominum; Confitebor tibi, Domini # Full Performers: Philippe Jaroussky (counter-tenor)
Julia Lezhneva (soprano)
Coro della Radiotelevisione Svizzera, Lugano
I Barocchisti/Diego Fasolis
rec. 14-21 March 2012, Auditorio Stelio Molo/Studio 2, RSI, Lugano, Switzerland; Chiesa del Sacro Cuore, Bellinzona, Switzerland
WARNER ERATO 3191472 [71:00]

Settings of the Stabat Mater employ great medieval texts for musical depictions of the grieving Virgin Mary at the foot of the Cross. The devotional setting has had an enduring popularity with composers that include: de Lassus, Palestrina, Vivaldi, Schubert, Verdi, Dvořák, Stanford, Szymanowski and Poulenc.
 
Pergolesi’s commission for the Stabat Mater for soprano, alto, strings and continuo came from the Confraternity of the Knights of the Virgin from the Church of Santa Maria dei Sette Dolori (Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows) in Naples. The Order required a modern score to replace the usually performed Stabat Mater that they had commissioned from Alessandro Scarlatti some twenty years earlier. The Pergolesi work soon attracted widespread acclaim and was performed all over Europe in many different editions. Soon after its completion Pergolesi died from tuberculosis at the Capuchin monastery at Pozzuoli in 1736, aged only twenty-six. 

My highlight of the work is the celebrated opening section where the responsive voices of counter-tenor Philippe Jaroussky and soprano Julia Lezhneva sing with an affecting purity that threatens to take the breath away. In the engaging aria Quae moerebat et dole bat Jaroussky sings radiantly demonstrating his remarkable feeling for the text. The soprano aria Vidit suum dulcem natum is given an engaging rendition by Lezhneva. It’s high on reverential feeling and she soars confidently to the high notes. Decidedly impressive too is the deeply moving serenity of the Largo duet sections Quis est homo qui non fleret and Quando corpus morietur. 

The Pergolesi Stabat Mater is frequently chosen with a number of recordings currently available. Of those recordings from period instrument ensembles I place this Erato at the top of the pile. Also worthy of attention is the account by Europa Galante directed by Fabio Biondi with soloists Dorothea Röschmann (soprano) and David Daniels (counter-tenor) on Virgin Classics. Recorded in 2005, at Studio Flagey, Brussels, Biondi, employing what he considers authentically scaled forces, directs beautifully shaped performances.
 
Next comes the Laudate pueri Dominum - a setting of Psalm 112 (113). Cast in seven sections with weighty and highly appealing outer movements this is richly scored and includes parts for trumpets and oboes. The combined effect of the singers and instrumentalists is highly satisfying with the Quis Sicut Dominus Deus Noster and the long legato lines of the Gloria Patri being agreeably devotional.
 
The final work is the Confitebor tibi, Domini - a work thought to have been written before 1732. A setting of Psalm 110 (111) the score is again presented in seven sections. Although the string and continuo accompaniment is comparatively light the opening Confitebor tibi Domini felt joyous and spirited, offering sincere praise of the Lord. The emotional heart of the score is the Sanctum et terribile Nomen ejus,wonderfully sung by Jaroussky with an abundance of sacred drama. He evidently relishes the opportunity to display his striking coloratura.
 
These are excellent performances directed by Diego Fasolis of three works from Pergolesi’s sacred music. Together they strike an outstanding balance between reverence and dramatic expression. Coro della Radiotelevisione svizzera, Lugano, who include eight sopranos in their twenty-strong complement, sound impeccably prepared. Their singing is impressively even and unified and radiates respect and enthusiasm for the sacred texts. The early music orchestra I Barocchisti comprises twenty-six players including a string section of fifteen. They provide colourful orchestral accompaniment. Fasolis’s confident direction sets lively tempi that are full of a spirit that secures both light and clarity of texture. Jaroussky’s velvety voice is in marvellous condition. He is undoubtedly the foremost counter-tenor of his generation comparable to Andreas Scholl in his prime. His formidable technique and highly appealing tone is allied with an astonishing feeling for vocal colour. This he achieves while maintaining an appropriate reverence. Also impressive is Russian soprano Julia Lezhneva. She sings with satisfying security and has a distinct purity to her clear tone and rapid-fire coloratura delivery.
 
I find it hard to imagine this recording of these sacred scores being bettered.
 
Michael Cookson  

Previous review: Johan van Veen



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