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Masses by Pergolesi and Scarlatti

Available from Amazon
Pergolesi, Missa Romana / Scarlatti, Messa per il santissimo natale, Concerto Italiano, R. Alessandrini

(released on October 28, 2008)
Naïve OP 30461
It seemed appropriate to review this new release from an Ionarts favorite ensemble, Concerto Italiano, while here in Rome. It brings together two lesser-known Mass settings made for churches here in the Eternal City. Alessandro Scarlatti called his third setting of the Latin Ordinary the Messa per il Santissimo Natale, a Mass for Christmas Day, completing it in 1707 while he was maestro di cappella at St. Mary Major. We had our first rehearsal there last night, in preparation for our Wednesday concert in that basilica, and my memories of making our last recording there, it turns out, were no exaggeration of how cold an unheated stone building can get at night.

It is the Scarlatti that most appeals to me in this pairing, a setting of all five Latin movements and with a more sustained style than Pergolesi, whose Mass, like many of his other pieces, is a string of pretty tidbits. Rinaldo Alessandri conducts with his accustomed rhythmic verve and attention to clean attack and release. He continues to indulge in a few old tricks, rarely allowing any slowing down in a movement’s final bars and ending in many cases on a short, clipped chord. The singing and playing are excellent, continuing to keep the group near the top of the HIP movement. There are no blemishes too prominent to mind, and some of the effects, like the breakneck speed imposed by Alessandrini at the end of the Pergolesi, are breath-taking.

The Pergolesi Missa Romana, only one of two settings of the Latin Ordinary that can be attributed to him, is an adaptation of work composed for Naples. It was performed in the Roman church of San Lorenzo in Lucina in 1734, which I passed by on Sunday evening. With its 12th-century portico and bell tower still intact, it is the burial place of the French painter Nicolas Poussin and has some striking work by Bernini, Simon Vouet, and Guido Reni. The Mass, for five-part choir, is only a Kyrie-Gloria pairing, with many striking passages. In the final statement of Kyrie, the punctuation of orchestral knife-stabs is followed by tortured harmonic suspensions in the choir, and the Domine deus opens with a gorgeous introduction for strings. The best movement is the first Qui tollis of the Gloria (“Qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis,” as plaintive a prayer for mercy as possible, with shocking tonal shifts in homophonic chorus and sighing chromatic decoration by violins.


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