PERGOLESI Stabat Mater
The steady stream of recordings of Pergolesi’s famous death-bed Stabat mater (1736) shows no sign of drying up. The booklet-notes, texts and translations inside Sony’s booklet are among the worst designed that I’ve seen, although the essential content is all there; a glamorous photo of soloists Sonya Yoncheva and Karine Deshayes hardly seems a thoughtful cover image suitable for conveying the essence of a poem depicting the grieving mother of the crucified Christ. Mind you, Pergolesi’s setting of the hymn – like so much Neapolitan church music of the time – is arguably as much about sensuality as it is about piety.
Ensemble Amarillis sustain rich legato lines in the string accompaniments, and muscular articulation in quick movements complements the operatically charged scale of the singing. Yoncheva and Deshayes over-egg proceedings, producing wide vibratos that ill-match the relatively straight timbre of the gut-string accompaniments (which are often theatrical, packed with rhetorical fascination and devoid of complacency). The singers tend to produce strident proclamation rather than gentle compassion, and moments that could offer spiritual consolation are instead laboured because melodic communication lacks subtlety.
Even if this interpretation of the Stabat mater is acerbic to my taste, this live recording made at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées places the work in the context of musical culture in Baroque Naples effectively thanks to extrovert performances of instrumental works by Pergolesi’s older contemporaries: Mancini’s Sonata in G minor, really a recorder concerto in all but name, is played with sensitive shaping and agility by Héloïse Gaillard, and Durante’s Concerto grosso in F minor shows Ensemble Amarillis on compelling form.