musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI (1710 - 1736): Stabat mater

Anna Prohaska, sopranoa; Bernarda Fink, mezzo-sopranob
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin
Dir: Bernhard Forck

rec: Dec 2009, Berlin, Teldex Studio
Harmonia mundi - HMC 902072 (© 2010) (59'53")

Pietro Antonio LOCATELLI (1695-1764): Concerto a 4 in E flat, op. 7,6 'Il pianto d'Arianna' [1]; Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI (1710-1736): Salve Regina in c (attr)ab; Stabat mater in f minorab; Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741): Sinfonia in b minor 'Al Santo Sepolcro' (RV 169)

Sources: [1] Pietro Antonio Locatelli, VI Concerti, op. 7, 1741

Bernhard Forck, Henriette Scheytt, Gabriele Steinfeld, Barbara Halfter, Edburg Forck, Dörte Wetzel, Gudrun Engelhardt, Uta Peters, violin; Sabine Fehlandt, Annette Geiger, Anja-Regine Graewel, viola; Kristin von der Goltz, cello; Harald Winkler, double bass; Axel Wolf, lute; Raphael Alpermann, harpsichord, organ

Yes, there we go again. Another recording of the evergreen for Passiontide - and other tides as well -: Pergolesi's Stabat mater. As if there aren't enough recordings on the market. This new disc is questionable in more than one respect. Firstly, what exactly is the thread of this disc? If it is music for Passiontide, then why do we get Locatelli's Concerto 'Il pianto d'Arianna? If it is about the way the 18th century dealt with the subject of passion in general, then why was a setting of the Salve Regina recorded, which has nothing to do with passion? The programme notes in the booklet don't tell.

The second question mark concerns the inclusion of the Salve Regina by Pergolesi. According to New Grove there are only two authentic settings of this text by Pergolesi, one in a minor and one in c minor. But both are for soprano solo and strings. The version in c minor recorded here is for two voices. I assume the setting recorded here is a version whose authenticity is not established. But, again, the liner-notes don't give any information about it. More than that: the booklet includes two different essays on the programme, one by Denis Morrier which is written in French and also given in an English translation, and one in German by Peter Wollny. I have no idea what the reasoning behind this may be. Funny enough, both go into detail about Pergolesi's setting in f minor of the Salve Regina which is for alto solo and not performed here. But both don't spend a word to the setting which is recorded. Didn't the authors of the liner notes know what was to be recorded?

Whether this Salve Regina is by Pergolesi or not, it is good enough to be performed and recorded, and in this performance it comes off best, although Anna Prohaska tends to dominate. The Sinfonia in b minor belongs to a category of instrumental pieces Vivaldi composed for liturgical use in the Ospedale della Pietà. Its title 'at the holy sepulchre' indicates the meaning of this piece, which is in two movements which follow the pattern of the sonata da chiesa. The opening phrase of the first movement contains a striking dissonant which is reminiscent of the opening of Pergolesi's Stabat mater. It is played rather well, even though a bit more subtlety hadn't been amiss. That is also the case in the Concerto à 4 in E flat, op. 7,6 in which Locatelli aims at depicting the lament of Ariadne who is left behind by her lover Theseus at the island of Naxos. The dynamic contrasts are pretty big, and the performance is certainly dramatic, but I prefer the more subtle and expressive recording by Concerto Köln (Teldec, 1994).

Pergolesi was particularly famous for his operas. His oeuvre in this genre has clearly left its mark in his setting of the Stabat mater. Actually, this very fact was one of the reasons this work was criticised. As celebrated as it was by many, it didn't meet universal approval. The influence of opera has led some interpreters to approach the Stabat mater in a highly dramatic fashion. One example is Fabio Biondi's recording with Dorothea Röschmann and David Daniels. I am not convinced that this approach is justified. Dramatic the Stabat mater may be, but it is still not an opera. Biondi exaggerates, and so does the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin. There is a lack a subtlety here again, and an overly dramatic and theatrical style of playing. The heavy accents in the second verse, 'Cujus animam gementem', are just one example. In contrast, the instrumental introduction to 'Inflammatus et accensus' is surprisingly tame. The singing fits well into this approach. Both Anna Prohaska and Bernarda Fink sing in a dramatic fashion, with strong dynamic contrasts. But they give too little attention to the text. That is in particular the case with Ms Prohaska, whose way of singing has little to do with the style of the baroque. Bernarda Fink has more experience in this field, but what they have in common is a pretty big vibrato. That is annoying in the solo episodes, and it damages the duets. They try do keep their vibrato in check there, and that makes the duets slightly better than one would expect, but they are still far from ideal.

Some may care less about these stylistic considerations. But it is not the main issue. I believe the interpreters are missing the point here. Dramatic this performance is, expressive it is not. And in addition to the questionable programming and the stylistic considerations it is impossible to consider this disc a useful production.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin

CD Reviews