The legendary Italian composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi was born 300 years ago, in 1710. To mark the anniversary, Naïve re-issues three renowned recordings to feature his choral music, in a specially-priced box set, headed by the Gramophone award-winning version of his Stabat Mater by Rinaldo Alessandrini and Concerto Italiano, considered one of the best ever recorded…
Also featured in the bargain “3 for the price of 1” set are other short pieces by Pergolesi, plus more by Alessandro Scarlatti and Leonardo Leo.
Petr Eben drew upon the Old Testament and sacred texts from early church fathers for his powerful sacred vocal works. Latin was his preferred language for these settings, and he favoured Gregorian chant which he used as inspiration for his weaving polyphonic lines, complex rhythms and irregular patterning. This body of work, written in the teeth of party opposition in Czechoslovakia – born a Jew, Eben became a practising Catholic – is one of the most important by a Czech composer in the twentieth-century.
Alessandro Scarlatti is justly famed for his contributions to Read more opera seria and cantata, and indeed it may even be said that he was one of the main progenitors of the Neapolitan style of the early 18th century. In Naples and earlier in Rome he was obligated to write a considerable amount of sacred music, much of it for smaller settings that would be useful in the local churches. Since his music is now becoming more common on disc, it is good to have this recording of a set of four pieces—a gradual, a Marian antiphon, a motet, and a Psalm—all of which reflect rather different approaches to each portion of the liturgy and yet contain a certain commonality in form and structure. Interspersed within these, and no doubt both to provide a transition between then and to fill out the disc, are three organ works, two of which are of substantial length. Given that Scarlatti’s pieces for this instrument are not common, their appearance here is a real treat.
“During this visit, these young ladies were so obliging as to sing me a Salve regina, lately set by their father, in duo. It is an exquisite composition, full of grace, taste and propriety.” What more could one ask of an antiphon than that which Charles Burney found in an impromptu performance by Hasse’s daughters during a visit to their father in Vienna in 1772? Hasse composed several settings of the Salve regina of which Reinhard Goebel has chosen two for his interesting programme of vocal and instrumental pieces by the composer.
Greek mezzo-soprano, Mary-Ellen Nesi, who sings all five works, produces a stream of gloriously firm tone reminiscent of Bernada Fink, another superb mezzo on the scene these days. Her diction and moulding of phrases here is excellent. The two Leonardo Leo settings of the Salve Regina (in C Minor and F Major) which begin the disc are followed by a cello Concerto (also by Leonardo Leo) and a world premiere recording of an Alessandro Scarlatti setting of salve Regina (in C Minor) and then the two better known Pergolesi settings (in C and A Minor) conclude the disc. The cello soloist is lovely too and all works receive excellent support from Alan Curtis and Il Complesso Barocco.
Pergolesi's Stabat mater and his C minor Salve Regina were coupled earlier on the Hogwood (L'Oiseau-Lyre) recording, highly praised by NA. The addition of another Salve Regina, this one attributed not quite conclusively to Scarlatti as a late work, provides the new record with a further attraction both on the piece's own merit (irrespective of authorship) and in its affinity with the Stabat mater. Another attraction for many will lie in the identity of the two singers and the conductor. Dutoit, to be sure, is not commonly associated with music of this kind, but the stylishness of his performances over a wide field may promote confidence that it will extend to this, and that the Montreal Sinfonietta will bring a touch that will not seem too heavy in an age which has grown accustomed to authentic instruments and reduced numbers. As for the singers, bath have the requisite clarity and flexibility, and Bartoli has made a notable success of arie antiche written within the period (Decca).
This recording from The Choir of Westminster Cathedral also features two of its admired former organists and the English Chamber Orchestra Brass Ensemble, all illuminating joyful paeans of praise by the profoundly religious organist and composer Jean Langlais.