musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"Stabat mater"

Emma Kirkby, sopranoa; Daniel Taylor, alto
Theatre of Early Music

rec: Feb 2005, Montréal, Grand Séminairebc; Feb 2006, Montréal, Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secoursa
BIS - SACD-1546 (© 2009) (74'50")

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden (BWV 1083)a; Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI (1710-1736): Salve Regina in f minorb; Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741): Stabat mater (RV 621)c

Adrian Butterfieldbc, Christine Morana, Cristina Zacharias, violin; Douglas McNabneybc, David Millera, viola; Richard Campbella, Sarah MacMahonbc, cello; Reuven Rothman, double bass; Sylvain Bergeron, lute; Christopher Jackson, organ

The programme on this disc looks a bit odd. What is the connection between Bach, Vivaldi and Pergolesi? The penitential Psalm 50 (51), which is set by Bach on a German text, was traditionally sung during Holy Week. So was the Stabat mater, which is recorded here in the famous version of Antonio Vivaldi. But what about Pergolesi's Salve Regina? The text has nothing to do with Holy Week, of course. The only connection one can think of is with Bach: his setting of Psalm 51 is based on Pergolesi's famous Stabat mater. Even so, from a programmatic point of view this disc is rather unsatisfying, and in addition it has nothing to offer which isn't already available on disc.

Of all the vocal works of Vivaldi, his Stabat mater is one of the most famous. In the era of the historical performance practice many male altos have performed it and there are many recordings available. But as we know that Vivaldi composed most of his sacred music for the Ospedale della Pietà, shouldn't it be performed by a female singer? Probably not, because it is very likely this work was not composed for one of the girls of the Ospedale. Vivaldi had played in 1711 in the Santa Maria della Pace in Brescia, and this led to a commission to write a Stabat mater to be performed during the Feast of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin in March of the next year. And as it was common practice that women did not sing in church, one may assume that the first performance was given by a male singer, probably an alto castrato. Vivaldi's setting is rather sombre, consisting of slow movements only. But through this he managed to create a very expressive work. In this performance that doesn't come really to the fore. Daniel Taylor's interpretation is very subdued, sung at a low volume, with little differentiation in dynamics. In addition his voice has a constant wobble which make this performance unpleasant to listen to. The playing of the strings is pretty bland and falls short on expression.

Pergolesi has composed two settings of the text of the Salve Regina. The one recorded here exists in two versions, for soprano and for alto respectively. This text has been set numerous times, and composers of the baroque era never missed the opportunity to translate words like "clamamus", "suspiramus" and "gementes et flentes" effectively into music. Pergolesi's setting is famous, and for good reasons. As far as the performance is concerned this is the best part of this disc. Daniel Taylor's voice is more powerful here, and more stable, and he also creates some good dynamic shading. The strings are still a bit flat, but they are definitely better than in Vivaldi.

The last work is the most odd piece on this disc. It is a relatively late discovery, and causes some unease as far as the relationship between text and music is concerned. It is true that Bach has done more than just transcribed Pergolesi's Stabat mater. He added parts, swapped verses and changed the vocal parts in order to adapt the music to the German text. But if one listens to the result it is still very strange, and I can't help feeling that text and music just don't match very well. It has been recorded a number of times before, and what we have here is definitely not the best possible interpretation. The voices of Emma Kirkby and Daniel Taylor don't blend very well, and in the verses for two voices Ms Kirkby overpowers Daniel Taylor. The latter's voice is weak in its lower register and that has a negative effect on the overall result. But in his solo contributions there is also a lack of real expression. A verse like 'Dich erzürnt mein Tun und Lassen' should be sung with much more text expression than Daniel Taylor delivers here. In comparison Emma Kirkby is much better, but that doesn't compensate Taylor's shortcomings. Moreover the strings are back at their sluggish self.

In short, this is a rather disappointing disc. Pergolesi's Salve Regina is the only part of this disc which comes off well. But it lasts less than 14 minutes, and that is not enough to commend this recording.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

Relevant links:

Emma Kirkby
Daniel Taylor & Theatre of Early Music

CD Reviews