The ensemble L`Archibudelli and the cellist Anner Bylsma, together with the wonderful soprano Roberta Invernizzi, have once again recorded the exceptionally well-rehearsed Mass by Luigi Boccherini in a fantastic recording. Despite minimal use without choir and winds, the listener is captivated by the drama of each movement. Rberta Invernizzi brings out in a clear and fine voice every single twist of this interesting work and the string ensemble shines with powerful, gripping sound and wonderful slow movements. The Stabat Mater is supplemented by the String Quintet op. 42.
Boccherini wrote very little vocal music; however he left two settings of the Stabat mater. It was first set in 1781 for solo soprano and strings and then in 1800 for two sopranos and tenor, obviously influenced by the hugely-popular Pergolesi Stabat mater of 1736. There are many similarities in the notation and harmony—even the same key of F minor is used. The writing is of extraordinary individuality and seems to come straight from the heart. This unjustly neglected piece is surely one of the most remarkable sacred compostions of the era.
Emanuele d'Astorga was one of the most colourful figures in early eighteenth-century music and his life has often been the subject of legend rather than fact (brief details of which can be discovered in Robert King's illuminating booklet notes). During his life, Astorga was best known for his well-written and tuneful chamber cantatas (of which more than 150 survive) and his opera Dafni (only Act 1 now survives). But by far his most enduring work has proved to be this setting of the Stabat mater, his only surviving sacred composition. Throughout it we hear Astorga's gift for writing warm melodies, typical of the Neapolitan style of the time, and how he captures the melancholy of this most desolate of sacred texts.
Conductor Rinaldo Alessandrini's historical-instrument recordings of Vivaldi and other Italian Baroque composers, originally recorded around the turn of the millennium for the Opus 111 label, are being reissued on Naïve, complete with the fashion-forward graphics for which that label is known. Any and all remain completely distinctive, but this all-Vivaldi disc makes perhaps the ideal place to start.
Antonio Vivaldi's probably early Nisi Dominus, RV 608, and Stabat Mater, RV 621, both for solo voice and ensemble, have received several top-notch recordings, so the listener can pick on the basis of voice type and stylistic preference. Countertenor David Daniels has essayed the pair with Fabio Biondi and his Europa Galante ensemble, and you can hear the preternaturally rich contralto Sara Mingardo in a reading with the fiery Italian Baroque specialist Rinaldo Alessandrini. Here you get a countertenor, Philippe Jaroussky, in the Nisi Dominus and a female contralto, Canadian Marie-Nicole Lemieux, in the Stabat Mater. The pairing robs the whole of unity at one level, but makes musical sense; the Nisi Dominus is a more athletic work that benefits from the power of the male voice, while the Stabat Mater, especially in Vivaldi's truncated and highly dramatic setting, may require the audience to identify with a female singer.
Understandably, Poulenc's Gloria and Stabat Mater have almost invariably been coupled together on LPs and CDs. Similarly scored for solo soprano, chorus, and orchestra, the two works are arguably the twin peaks of Poulenc's sacred music, that is, they are irresistibly melodic, energetically rhythmic, directly emotional, conservatively harmonic, and fervently religious. That said, however, the difference in tone between the two works is as striking as their similarities. Where the Gloria is light, bright, and at times even funny, the Stabat Mater, as befits its subject matter, is dark, heavy, and always deeply sorrowful. In this pair of performances with Georges Prêtre leading the Orchestre National de France and the French Radio Choir from the '80s, both works are given the deluxe French treatment. Prêtre is as skilled at balancing his forces as he is at keeping the music moving, and, as importantly, he is as capable of expressing the Gloria's joyous wit as he is of articulating the Stabat Mater's profound suffering. But the real star of these performances is American soprano Barbara Hendricks whose clear, warm voice and excellent diction breath vibrant life into all Poulenc's glorious melodies.