Monday, 29 November 2010

Pergolesi Stabat Mater at the Barbican

Harry Bicket and The English Concert had put together a fascinating programme for their concert at the Barbican on Saturday. Pergolesi's Stabat Mater, preceded by Vivaldi's Nisi Dominus and the Salve Regina by Porpora. There were a number of cross links, both Porpora and Pergolesi were Neapolitan, both the Porpora and the Vivaldi pieces were written for Venetian ospedale. But the best laid plans ....

Anna Caterina Antonacci, who interestingly now bills herself as a soprano, was ill and replaced in the Pergolesi by Susan Gritton. This entailed dropping the Porpora and replacing it with a Handel concerto grosso (Opus 6, no. 6).

The group opened with the Handel, a beautifully restrained, intimate performance. Continuo consisted of William Carter's theorbo will just occasional support from Bicket on the chamber organ (no harpsichord of course, because the original programme of sacred music would not have needed one). Bicket shapes this music a lot, perhaps too much at times; beautiful thought it was there were occasions when I just wanted him to let go and let the musicians get on with it.

Sara Mingardo was the soloist in the Vivaldi. She turned in a finely tuned, beautifully relaxed performance, making the most of the dramatic moments but keeping the filigree vocal work for such movements as Cum dederit. It wasn't a self-consciously showy performance, just one that was highly musical and from a consummate artist.

Gritton and Mingardo's performance in the Pergolesi gave no hint that the pairing was a last minute affair. Inevitably there were changes, it would have interesting to have heart the piece with two dark Mediterranean voices. But Gritton provided a poised contrast to Mingardo and the two joined beautifully in the duets. This wasn't a performance that tried to milk the piece for all it was worth, thank goodness, instead Bicket and his performers allowed Pergolesi's chromatic harmonies to do their work.

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