Tuesday 25 March 2014

Stabat Mater

Vivaldi/Pergolesi/Scarlatti - naive
Stabat Mater - Vivaldi, Pergolesi, Scarlatti: Ensemble Matheus/Jean-Christophe Spinosi, Concerto Italiano/Rinaldo Alessandrini: naive
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 18 2014
Star rating: 3.0

Survey of 18th century sacred music in this re-issue,

This re-issue from naive parcels together two discs of 18th century Italian sacred works, so that you get Philippe Jaroussky, Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Ensemble Matheus and Jean-Christophe Spinosi in Vivaldi's Nisi Dominus and Stabat Mater (from 2007), plus Gemma Bertagnolli, Sara Mingardo, Concerto Italiano, and Rinaldo Alessandrini in Pergolesi's Stabat Mater and Alessandro Scarlatti's Stabat Mater (from 1998), with only linking theme for the discs being the Stabat Mater. What you get is a remarkable overview of 18th century sacred music, and also a striking variety of performances.

Vivaldi's Nisi Dominus was one of the pieces of sacred music that he wrote for the Ospedale dell Pieta in Venice. Vivaldi had worked there since 1703 as a violin teacher, and after 1712 wrote sacred music for them as well. It is scored for voice and strings, with counter-tenor Philippe Jaroussky taking the solo role. It opens with crisp passagework from the strings complemented by fine vocals from Jaroussky singing with bright, forward clean tone. The result is very infectious. The gentle lyrical Vanum est vobis is followed by the more brilliant Surgite postquam sederitis, both movements quite short. The longer Cum dederit delectis is gently lyric, with quiet strings, the result is misterioso and haunting. Two short movements follow, the lively Sigut sagittae and Beatus vir with its lovely sinuous melody. The Gloria Patri has a long solo for viola d'amore, which accompanies the lovely slow and quite complex vocal line. The final two movements return to the opening material before a busy Amen.

This is a delightfully infectious performance, and the recording captures Jaroussky's voice well with its sweet tone and lovely top. The playing from the ensemble is crisp and lively, but not too driven.

Next comes a piece which is attributed to Vivaldi but sounds more like the work of a later generation. The Crucifixus, from a longer Credo, is sung by Jaroussky and Lemieux and is full of gorgeous suspensions, far more Pergolesi or Lotti than Vivaldi but no matter. This is a superbly balanced and controlled performance of a rather lovely piece.

Finally on this first disc, the ensemble and Lemieux perform Vivaldi's early Stabat Mater, one of his earliest sacred music commissions. In contrast to Jaroussky's bright-toned high countertenor, Lemieux is richly dark-toned and dignified. She opens with her richly textured voice supported by discreet string accompaniment. Two darkly expressive shorter movements follow, before the opening material returns in the Quis est homo. Quis non posset is a wonderfully intense recitative, followed by Pro peccatis suae gentis with great bounce and expressive passagework. There is an interesting contrast between Lemieux's expressive vibrato and the stabbing of the string accompaniment in Eja mater whilst Face ut ardeat cor meum is a lyrical triple time movement which again displays the dark tones of Lemieux's voice with a final, busy Amen.

The performances on this disc are highly recommendable and both infectious and stylish with the singers well supported by Ensemble Matheus and Jean-Christophe Spinosi.

Pergolesi's Stabat Mater, written for the Cavalieri del Vergine Dolori in Naples in 1734, one of Pergolesi's last works. It is one of the most famous pieces of 18th century Italian sacred music and as such Rinaldo Alessandrini and his Concerto Italiano seem to have been concerned to break the mould with their recording. Joined by soloists Gemma Bertagnolli and Sara Mingardo, the performers push the work to extremes. The opening movement has the strings held back, slightly stylised but expressive though at a rather slow tempo. The voices enter in a similar manner, and the whole feels like a rather romantic conception in HIP clothes. For me, the speed of this movement becomes a problem as it almost seems to grind to a halt. In the following movement we get poised vocals contrasting with sharp stabbing in the accompaniments, here it is the dynamic contrast which is pushed to its limit. The rest of the work is a similar combination of extremes, impulsive movements such as Fac ut ardeat contrast with ones such as Fac ut portem Christi where the speed seems almost to break down. I have nothing but admiration for Mingardo and Bertagnolli and the instrumentalists, who all display superb technique in adhering to Alessandrini's ideas, but this is not an interpretation I would want to live with.

Alessandro Scarlatti's Stabat Mater was written for the same brotherhood as Pergolesi's but some years earlier and in fact poor Scarlatti seems to have been replaced by the more up to date Pergolesi. The work does not have the melodic felicity of the Pergolesi, but it is full of lovely touches with greater harmonic interest and some interestingly daring moments. As with Pergolesi, the work unfolds in a series of solo arias and duets, all quite small. Perhaps as there was less to prove with this work, the performance feels more natural and less stylised.

As a set this re-issue is a bit of a mixed bag. I would hesitate to recommend it for the Pergolesi Stabat Mater, but the remaining items are very fine indeed. But for a good price (under £12 on Amazon) it is perhaps a disc which warrants a little exploration.

Antonio Vivaldi (1678 - 1741) - Nisi Dominus RV608
Antonio Vivaldi (1678 - 1741) - Crucifixus (from Credo RV592)
Antonio Vivaldi (1678 - 1741) -  Stabat Mater RV621
Philippe Jaroussky (counter-tenor)
Marie-Nicole Lemieux (contralto)
Ensemble Matheus / Jean-Christophe Spinosi
Recorded July 2007

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710 - 1736) - Stabat Mater
Alessandro Sacrlatti (1660 - 1725) - Stabat Mater
Gemma Bertagnolli (soprano)
Sara Mingardo (contralto)
Concerto Italiano/Rinaldo Alessandrini
Recorded 1998

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