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More (Old) Jaroussky

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Stabat Mater: Motets to the Virgin Mary,
P. Jaroussky, Ensemble Artaserse

(re-released on May 4, 2010)
Virgin Classics 693907 2 | 71'31"
We have admired several recordings featuring Philippe Jaroussky, most recently a fine recital of arias by Johann Christian Bach. Jaroussky's 2006 album Beata virgine, however, was something I had not heard, until this Virgin Classics re-release, sold somewhat confusingly under a new title, arrived recently. It was one of two collaborations (the other being a set of Vivaldi cantatas) between the French countertenor and Artaserse, the instrumental ensemble he formed for that purpose. The program consists of motets in honor of the Virgin Mary, all composed in Venice or Rome in the 17th century. Some are set to standard Marian texts, including the Stabat Mater sequence, here in a florid setting by Giovanni Felice Sances (1600–1679), or the four well-known Marian antiphons, like Giovanni Legrenzi's Ave regina caelorum, one of two duet selections featuring contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux on the second part. Others use antiphon texts from other Marian chants, drawn from the Song of Songs and other sources: the monodic style used in Cavalli's O quam suavis and Caprioli's Vulnerasti cor meum, for example, reinforces the dual nature of the text as erotic love poetry and devotional contemplation. Still others set what seem to be more recent, sometimes rhymed texts, possibly commissioned specifically for a particular occasion, like the multipartite, cantata-like O caeli devota (Colonna) and Corda lingua in amore (Bassani). The latter composer's Sonata prima features the instrumental ensemble on its own, and the instrumental underpinning of many sections of the vocal pieces are driven by dance rhythms or repeating bass patterns. None of the music is overly familiar and all is performed beautifully.

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