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Briefly Noted: Sacred Music by Pergolesi

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Pergolesi, Stabat mater (inter alia), A. Prohaska, B. Fink, Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin

(released on October 12, 2010)
HMC 902072 | 59'53"
Pergolesi's Stabat mater is one of the most memorable settings of that sublime sequence text. It gets a live performance every once in a while, as it did this fall by the Washington Bach Consort, a concert that sadly went unreviewed here. Both it and the other sacred work by Pergolesi, the Salve Regina in C minor, recorded on this recent release from the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin are available in strong performances by several other historically informed performance ensembles. Like most of Pergolesi's music, there is considerable facility and melodic beauty, but not surprisingly for someone who died at age 26, shortly after composing the Stabat mater, one has the sense of a voice not quite fully formed. This Stabat mater was composed for and performed by two castrati, a soprano and an alto, something for which the two voices heard here could never be confused. Mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink is a known quantity, and she sounds as full-bodied as ever, the vibrato perhaps a little excessive and leading to a slight inconsistency of intonation. Soprano Anna Prohaska, whose name came up in my review of René Jacobs's new recording of Handel's Agrippina -- and in Jens's coverage of the Salzburg Festival -- is just as rugged in tone, with a robust thickness and a similar tendency toward minor discoloration, though also affecting, at times of stress. The thing that tips the scales in favor of this disc ultimately is the playing of the string (and continuo) players of the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, not least in two little instrumental gems by Vivaldi (the Sinfonia "Al santo sepolcro," RV 169) and Locatelli (the gorgeous Concerto a 4, "Il Pianto d'Arianna").

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