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Stabat mater à la française

[I] Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI: Stabat mater
Jodie Devos, sopranob; Adèle Charvet, mezzo-sopranob
Maîtrise de Radio Franceb; Le Concert de la Loge
Dir: Julien Chauvin
rec: April 2021, Caen, Théâtrea; Paris, Maison de la Radio et de la Musique (Auditorium)
Alpha - 784 (© 2021) (53'22")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809): Symphony in f minor 'La Passione' (H I,49)a; Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI (1710-1736): Stabat materb

Julien Chauvin, Raphaël Aubry, Marieke Bouche, Saori Furukawa, Claire Jolivet, Anna Markova, Anaïs Perrin, Blandine Chemin, Karine Crocquenoy, Laurence Martinaud, Lucien Pagnon, violin; Pierre-Éric Nimylowycz, Delphine Grimbert, Marie Legendre, viola; Emilia Gliozzi, Annabelle Brey, Jérôme Huille, cello; Christian Staude, double bass; Camille Delaforge, organa; Aurélien Delage, harpsichord, organb

[II] Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809): Stabat mater
Florie Valiquette, sopranoa; Adèle Charvet, mezzo-sopranoa; Reinoud Van Mechelen, tenora; Andreas Wolf, bassa
Ensemble Aedesa; Le Concert de la Loge
Dir: Julien Chauvin
rec: Oct & Nov 2019, Paris, Louvre (Auditorium)ac; Oct 2019, Metz, Arsenalb
Aparté - AP245 (2 CDs) (© 2021) (1.45'45")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Stabat mater (H XXa,1)a; Symphony in E flat (H I,84)b; Symphony in D (H I,86)c

[Aedes] Agathe Boudet, Laura Holm, Agathe Peyrat, Amélie Raison, soprano; Élise Bédènes, Julia Beaumier, Laia Cortès, Clémence Faber, contralto; Paul Crémazy, Anthony Lo Papa, Nicolas Rether, Florent Thioux, tenor; Vlad Crosman, Sorin Dumitrascu, Alejandro Gabor, Pascal Gourgand, Louis-Pierre Patron, bass
[LCdlL] Tami Krausz, transverse flute; Emma Blackac, Yanina Yacubsohnac, Laura Duthuilléb, Neven Lesageb, oboe; Josep Casadellaac, David Douçotb, Alexandre Sallesb, bassoon; Nicolas Chedmailac, Andrew Haleb, Christoph Thelen, horn; Philippe Genestier, Emmanuel Alemany, trumpet; Julien Chauvin, Marieke Bouche, Anne Camillo, Blandine Cheminb, Pauline Fritschb, Saori Furukawaac, Anna Markovaac, Lucien Pagnon, Anaïs Perrin, Laura Corollaac, Karine Crocquenoyb, Claire Jolivetac, Laurence Martinaud, Guya Martininiac, Lilia Slavnyac, violin; Raphaël Aubry, violinb, violaRaphaël Aubryac; Pierre-Éric Nimylowiczb, Hélène Desaintac, Marie Legendre, Maria Mosconiac, viola; Emilia Gliozzi, Pierre-Augustin Lay, Lucile Perrin, cello; Michele Zeoliac, Davide Vittoneb, double bass; Frédéric Rivoal, organ; David Joignaux, timpani

Scores Haydn

The Stabat mater is one of the standard works of Passiontide. In the course of history many composers have set this text. Most of these settings date from the renaissance and baroque periods. Obviously, it was only performed in Catholic countries and regions. When Johann Sebastian Bach became acquainted with the setting by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, he adapted the music to a new text in German, taken from the Book of Psalms. Whereas many settings are known from Italy, in France - although firmly Catholic - composers seem to have avoided this text. I can't remember having ever heard a Stabat mater by a French composer of the 17th or 18th century.

It was Pergolesi's setting which conquered France, and was frequently performed at the Concert Spirituel, that famous concert series that had been founded in 1725. In the first about 25 years of its existence, it was often the same music that was performed each season. Vivaldi's Four Seasons were among the most frequently performed. Around the middle of the 18th century, it was Italian music of a later date that was programmed, and one of the pieces that became an evergreen, was Pergolesi's Stabat mater, which was first performed in Paris in 1753. The introduction of this work to the Paris audiences was not without risk. Only one year before the premiere, another work by Pergolesi, his intermezzo La Serva padrona, in the Opéra had caused the infamous Querelle des Bouffons, a conflict between supporters of traditional French opera and the promoters of the new Italian style.

The Stabat mater was received with great enthusiasm, though. Since the first performance it returned every year during Holy Week until 1790, the year the Concert Spirituel was disbanded. Such was its popularity that it was even performed at other times in the year. However, it was not performed as written by the composer. It was very common at the time to adapt a composition to the local taste and performance practice. Julien Dubruque, in his liner-notes to the first disc under review here, sums up in what way the performances were different from what Pergolesi may have intended. First, it was probably never performed complete, but rather in excerpts. Second, it was often performed alongside French grands motets, in which a choir participated. It therefore seems likely that the choir also took part in performances of Pergolesi's Stabat mater. The evidence of this comes from a choral adaptation - which has been lost - by Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace Royer, who from 1748 to 1754 was director of the Concert Spirituel. Third, the solos were sung by different voice types than was common in Naples in Pergolesi's time. Whereas the first performances undoubtedly were given by castratos, in France the soloists in the Concert Spirituel were often women. The soprano part was sung by a female dessus, the alto part by a visiting Italian alto castrato or a French falsettist. However, the solo parts could also be performed, in transposition, by lower voices, such as haute-contre, taille and basse-taille. The recording under the direction of Julien Chauvin is with a dessus, bas-dessus (mezzo-soprano) and a choir of children's voices. He makes use of several manuscript copies which are preserved in the Bibiothèque Nationale de France. These also include many variants regarding articulation, dynamics and instrumentation.

This is a most interesting version, which attests to the variation in performance practice in 18th-century Europe. Some music disseminated across the continent, and Pergolesi's Stabat mater has been preserved in copies in many places. However, such music was mostly performed in different ways, according to local habits. In this case, the Latin pronunciation is also part of that: here the singers use the French pronunciation which today is practised in most performances and recordings of French sacred music of the 17th and 18th centuries. Performances with the participation of a choir are relatively rare, but not unknown; over the years I have encountered several of such recordings. Where a choir comes in, is probably a matter of choice on the part of the musical director. On what basis Julien Chauvin has taken his decisions, is not mentioned. I would have liked to know whether the copies he has used, include any indications in this.

Unfortunately, the performances by the two soloists are not really satisfying. There is certainly no lack of expression, but the whole approach is too operatic. The singers also use too much vibrato, which I find hard two swallow. Moreover, it is not easy to understand the text, which seems to me a serious shortcoming. One can have different opinions about the role of the choir. The fact that it opens the proceedings is one of the things I am not very happy about. The choir's singing leaves nothing to be desired, though, and the orchestra is also excellent. With its eleven violins, three violas, three cellos and double bass it is considerably larger than what was common in Italy in Pergolesi's time, but in France the orchestras were generally larger than elsewhere.

With the second disc we stay with the Stabat mater and in France. Again, we have here a piece of music written outside of France, but performed à la française.

Haydn is not associated with sacred music in the first place. Some of his masses are fairly well-known - although not that often performed - but date from late in his career. The Stabat mater is his first large-scale sacred work and dates from 1767. It was the result of his taking over the responsibility for the composition of sacred music at the Esterházy court, after the death of Gregor Joseph Werner the previous year. The first performance probably took place on Good Friday, 17 April 1767, in the chapel in Eisenstadt. The next year it may have been performed in Vienna, at the instigation of Johann Adolf Hasse, who was in the service of the imperial court and had expressed "indescribable praise" for Haydn's Stabat mater. The first documented performance in Vienna took place in 1771, again on Good Friday as part of the Vesper service, under Haydn's own direction. Since then it was performed frequently until at least 1783. It was also copied many times; more than forty copies from the time before 1790 have come down to us. It was not only performed within a liturgical framework, but also in public concerts.

In the recording under Julien Chauvin's direction, we don't hear Haydn's Stabat mater as he performed it in Vienna, but rather a French adaptation, performed at the Concert Spirituel. In 1781 the then director, Joseph Legros, decided to organise a kind of competition to find a successor to Pergolesi's Stabat mater. Two settings were performed: one by a certain Padre Afonso de Vito, about whom nothing seems to be known, and the other by Haydn. The former was a complete failure, but Haydn's setting made such a strong impression that it contined to be performed every year during Holy Week (until 1790), a few days before Pergolesi's piece, which remained the favourite of some parts of the audience. The success of his Stabat mater also earned Haydn the commission for the composition of his Paris symphonies.

The present recording is based on a score, published in Paris, of an edition which may well have been created by Legros himself. The differences regard several aspects. First, in some passages the text is slightly altered, which can be explained from different liturgical traditions in France, in comparison with what Haydn was used to. Julien Dubruque, in his liner-notes, mentions an additional reason: "the endless quarrels in Paris itself between advocates of the Gallican and Roman liturgies". Second, the vocal parts of the tutti have been altered. In France, no difference was made between soprano and alto; both were designated as dessus. This, and the fact that the pitch was lower in France than elsewhere in Europe, made the editor change the range of the voices; in some places parts were exchanged or transposed up an octave. Third, the instrumental forces in France were different: as I have already mentioned, the orchestras were larger than elsewhere. Moreover, Haydn requires a pair of cors anglais, but as this instrument was hardly used in France, they were replaced by oboes. Lastly, the French version also includes differences in articulation and rhythm.

In this recording the orchestra is of the same size as in Pergolesi, plus the required winds and organ. The choir comprises seventeen voices (4/4/4/5). Like in Pergolesi, the Latin text is pronounced as was common in France at the time. The work is divided into two parts, according to the edition used for this recording. In 1781 it was also performed that way: the first part on Monday and the second on Tuesday. In this recording the split is made by allocating each part to a different disc. This recording is as interesting as that of Pergolesi's Stabat mater. It not only documents a different performance tradition, but also attests to the popularity of Haydn's music across Europe. This is not just a slight adaptation to different circumstances, but a version that can be considered an arrangement. Haydn's Stabat mater is a masterpiece, and that comes to the fore in this arrangement just as well as in the original version. Overall, the performance is very convincing, some stylistic issues notwithstanding. The soloists manage to communicate its expressive features rather well. Adèle Charvet sings 'O quam tristis et afflicta' with great sensitivity. She has a nice voice, but I regret her use of vibrato. 'Quis non posset contristari' has an insisting character that comes off well in Florie Valiquette's performance, but she uses too much vibrato as well, even more than Adèle Charvet. Her voice is not an ideal match of Reinoud Van Mechelen's in 'Sancta Mater, istud agas'. The latter is at his most expressive in his part of this section, in which the two voices only join in the third section. 'Inflammatus et accensus' is pretty dramatic, and Andreas Wolf's powerful interpretation is spot-on. Choir and orchestra deliver outstanding performances. The choral sections are among the best in this recording.

This production is the last part of a complete recording of Haydn's Paris symphonies. As the two parts of the Stabat mater are allocated to different discs, the first opens with the Symphony No. 84 and the second closes with No. 86. These symphonies are among the most frequently-performed orchestral works by Haydn, and rightly so. They are brilliant specimens of his art, and his strong contribution to the development of the symphony. They receive excellent performances here, and give the orchestra plenty opportunities to show its skills.

For the Pergolesi disc Chauvin chose another of Haydn's symphonies. In his notes in the booklet he mentions that his symphonies were frequently played at the Concert Spirituel, and regularly opened the concerts in Passiontide. He does not say whether the Symphony in f minor with the nickname La Passione was one of them. Regardless, it is a good choice, not only because of its association with Passiontide, but also because it is in the same key as Pergolesi's Stabat mater. "We were inspired by the presence of an organ in the Salle des Cent-Suisses in the Tuileries [where the concerts of the Concert Spirituel took place] to imagine a version with an obbligato keyboard part, which here replaces the oboes and horns". I find this a bit too speculative, and hardly tenable from a historical perspective. The organ has not much prominence, but the omission of winds lends this symphony an intimacy which suits the occasion.

Despite this and other issues mentioned above, these are highly interesting and musically compelling productions.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

Relevant links:

Adèle Charvet
Jodie Devos
Reinoud Van Mechelen
Florie Valiquette
Andreas Wolf
Ensemble Aedes
Maîtrise de Radio France
Le Concert de la Loge

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