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Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI (1710-36)
Stabat Mater [35:04]
Nicola Antonio PORPORA (1686-1768)
Salve Regina [16:58]
Leonardo LEO (1694-1744)
Beatus vir qui timet [13:53]
Sandrine Piau (soprano)
Christopher Lowrey (countertenor)
Les Talens Lyriques/Christophe Rousset
rec. 2018, Église Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption d'Auvers-sur-Oise, France
ALPHA 449 [66:11]

This Alpha recording of the perennially popular Pergolesi work is the second for Christophe Rousset and his period band, Les Talens Lyriques. The earlier recording featured a lustrous Barbara Bonney and an elegant Andreas Scholl in a typically deluxe presentation by Decca that first appeared in 1999.

Much has changed in Rousset’s approach to the work since then. He and his soloists have adopted a livelier almost operatic approach to sacred composition. Throughout my audition of the CD I was struck by how much drama has been applied to the piece. I have to admit that I have not encountered this sort of approach before but I rather liked it. Rousset’s take has opened a new way of thinking about this often heard work.

Sandrine Piau sings with bright tone and a trenchant style to match Rousset. In the Cujus animam I thought she came near to over-emoting, almost as if she was singing one of Handel’s betrayed opera heroines. Her counterpart is Christopher Lowrey. He presents a truly lovely Quae moerebat which shows off the fine grained quality of his voice.

In comparison to the earlier Decca recording I find that Rousset and his singers take a more subdued and reflective approach to the music. It has more of a feel of gravitas about it that I rather warm to. Bonney and Scholl did not ornament their vocal lines as much as Piau and Lowrey do here. A perfect point for comparison is the Quae moerebat, which, in the Decca, moves at a lightly elegant pace whereas the new Alpha reading is downright jaunty and dancelike. Bonney’s is a voice of creamy sweetness compared to the more svelte tone of Madame Piau, both are top notch. Scholl has a slightly richer tone than Lowrey but they are both equally superb. The Decca was recorded in Paris’ Notre-Dame-du-Liban Church which sounds to be larger because Decca’s recording has a more cavernous acoustic about it than this one.

The two other works on the program are not works that I have heard before. The Porpora piece is very engagingly sung by Madame Piau. Her manner here is a little more sedate than in the Pergolesi. The Beatus vir qui timut by Leo is the most reflective sounding work on the program, it allows Mr Lowrey’s artistry to really shine in a most heartfelt performance. The sound engineering is absolutely top notch with a feeling of being in not too large a church unlike the Decca CD.

My own preference for a Stabat Mater has always been the cleanly elegant version by Christopher Hogwood on Oiseau-Lyre with the ethereal Emma Kirkby and the wonderful grounding presence of James Bowman who was in his finest form when that recording was made. I certainly have room for Rousset’s vividly dramatic take on this music but personally I would opt for the Hogwood version as my first choice.
Mike Parr

Previous review: Stuart Sillitoe

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