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Monday, 21 April 2014

Power duo Pergolesi

Sonia Prina
Sonia Prina
Pergolesi Stabat Mater: Roberta Invernizzi, Sonia Prina, the English Concert, Bernard Labadie: the Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Apr 17 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Star duet partnership Roberta Invernizzi and Sonia Prina in Pergolesi's Stabat Mater

The English Concert's appearance, conducted by Bernard Labadie, at the Wigmore Hall on 17 April 2014 was clearly designed to showcase the talents of soprano Roberta Invernizzi and contralto Sonia Prina; both Italian and developing something of a reputation as a duet partnership in early music. At the Wigmore Hall they sang Pergolesi's Stabat Mater, with Sonia Prina as soloist in Vivaldi's Stabat Mater RV621 and Robert Invernizzi as soloist in Pergolesi's Salve Regina with the concert introduced with Vivaldi's Sinfonia al Santo Sepolcro RV 169.

Roberta Invernizzi
Roberta Invernizzi
A full Wigmore Hall stage had the 15 players of the English Concert (strings, theorbo and organ led by Adrian Butterfield. They played Vivaldi's Sinfonia al Santo Sepulcro, one of his few instrumental pieces that we can securely attribute to a sacred usage. A highly charged dramatic Adagio led to an intense, fugal Allegro, the whole piece being rather powerful but relatively short.

Pergolesi's Salve Regina was one of a pair of works (the other being the Stabat Mater) written whilst the composer was staying in a Franciscan monastery in Naples shortly before his death from TB (at the age of 26). Both works have stylistic links and there are clear influences from Pergolesi's operatic writing (something for which he was criticised by contemporaries).

The opening Largo of the Salve Regina saw Roberta Internizzi intense, focussed and very plangent. When things developed, the Ad clamamus brought in a perky string accompaniment and the more athletic vocal line saw her with a lovely clean but affecting attack. Later passage-work was evenly and beautifully shaped with the conclusion expressive and intense, though surprisingly low key. Invernizzi's whole performance had style and poise, which set off her lovely straight toned voice, nicely complemented by the characterful accompaniment from Bernard Labadie and the English Concert.

Vivaldi's Stabat Mater RV  621 is one of the earliest of his sacred works to survive. It was written for a feast day at a church in Brescia in 1712 and almost certainly performed by a solo castrato. Here Sonia Prina brought her distinctive, rich-toned, vividly dark contralto voice to bear. Labadie's tempo at the opening was quite brisk, but Prina was expressive and remarkably vivid, her voice having a lovely sense of focus. Prina made a strongly characterful soloist, her performance full of virtues with a sense of line and a feeling for the words complementing her remarkable voice, though there were moments when I did wonder whether she verged on the mannered.

O quam tristis had a lovely swing to it, whilst Nati poenas inclyuti had some nicely expressive passagework. When Vivaldi brings back the opening material back, both soloist and ensemble gave the music highly vivid emphasis though in Eja mater Labadie pushed the string figures to the limits of stylisation. The concluding Amen was both busy and vivid with some lovely strong passagework from Prina.

Pergolesi's Stabat Mater was in fact commissioned to replace a setting by Alessandro Scarlatti written some 12 years earlier but regarded as old-fashioned. It was highly influential and much transcribed during the 18th century.

The opening Grave saw Labadie and his performers making the most of the music's suspensions. The two soloists were expressive, but robust and not self indulgent when it came to tempo and rubato. Invernizzi sang the dramatic and vigorous Andante amoroso aria with plangent voice and nicely focused tone. In the following Larghetto duet, Invernizzi and Prina impressed with their lovely blend and the way they operated together almost as a unit. Their two voices are quite contrasting in many ways, but their very direct approach and lovely straight tone meant they worked well together and complemented each other. Both sang very full bloodedly and avoided over romanticising the piece.

Prina's first aria was a nicely perky Allegro followed by a duet which moved from a moving Largo to a vividly fast Allegro. Internizzi was again nicely plangent in her next aria, Tempo giusto, before opening up into something wonderfully powerful. Prina's second aria, Andantino was quite vigorous but still with a fine sense of line and word. The Allegro duet was wonderfully full blooded and in the following Tempo giusto both showed a nice poise. The final aria is allotted to the alto soloist, here Sonia Prina gave us some strikingly delicate moments to complement the more stronger toned ones. The Allegro duet was vividly done with no sense of over doing things and the final movement was quietly beautiful and very affecting with a terrific Amen.

This was a characterfully unhackneyed performance, one that did not try too hard to be different. With performances as fine as these we left satisfied but I did wonder whether we might have been able to have a slightly more challenging and enterprising programme.

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