Pergolesi La serva padrona
Pergolesi's influential mini-masterpiece comes up well on this new Hungarian recording. The two singers, both of whom have distinguished themselves in earlier Hungaroton version of eighteenth-century Italian operas, have a command rare among non-Italians of how to use the words almost as part of the music. Kozsef Gregor in particular relishes his consonants splendidly, and in his main comic aria, ''Sempre incontrasti'', his use of accent, his exact 'placing' of the staccato notes and his ripe, rotund bottom register all place him high among buffo basses today. The aria is not taken specially fast—some singers make it a test of verbal athleticism—but if effectively captures the old man in a dither and a temper all at one. Much the same goes for his later aria. ''Son imbrogliato'', again taken at a modest pace and done in shapely fashion, and with plenty of real tone on the comic low notes. Nor is the Serpina the tiresome and implausible little termagant we are sometimes presented with. Katalin Farkas, though she can be sharp enough in the recitative, happily avoids shrillness, and pertness too, in the arias. She is fresh, natural and sweet of tone in the first of them, ''Stizzoso'', and in the second, ''A Serpina penscrete'', alternates between the gently sentimental, wheedling manner and a spirited, mischievous buffa one. In short, the performance is a good deal more musical than most, and the little felicities of Pergolesi's lines and the expressiveness of his harmonies make their due effect.
There is another point in its favour. Two alternative finales are known to this intermezzo (it was designed not for separate performance but as inter-act entertainment during the serious opera). This version, following an early Neapolitan manuscript, offers both, so that the work concludes with a double duet. Pergolesi's intentions will probably ever be known for certain, and there is some doubt as to whether the second of the duets is his, but this ending seems to me quite plausible and appropriate. Then there is an appendix, with some French pieces from a Paris revival of the 1750s, of fairly modest interest (the style is commonplace of the time, the invention routine). But it is quite pleasant to have this material, an interesting reminder of how the eighteenth century were prepared to dilute their material and how unaware they were of doing so. The conducting is capable but a little on the relaxed side, the string playing pleasantly stylish.'