PERGOLESI Stabat Mater JS BACH Cantatas Nos 54 & 170
The last few years have been a period of extremes for Pergolesi’s Stabat mater. High-profile recordings have veered wildly between anachronistic richness and thickly painted vocal lines (Yoncheva and Deshayes on Sony, Netrebko and Pizzolato on DG) and near-anaemic period precision (Lezhneva and Jaroussky on Erato). Anyone longing for a bit more moderation – a performance embracing both the rose and the yew tree in this exquisite Latin hymn – should find plenty to console in this thrilling new recording from La Nuova Musica.
In Lucy Crowe and Tim Mead the ensemble have both period specialists and singers with enough muscle and tone to temper stylistic precision with human drama. Together they lead a performance that is both meditation (a ‘Quando corpus morietur’ of infinite restraint, whose legatos seem endless; the opening ‘Stabat mater dolorosa’) and a vivid sacred drama (Crowe’s nervy, fretful ‘Cujus animam gementem’; the urgency of duet ‘Fac, ut ardeat cor meum’).
David Bates and his ensemble take an active part in the drama too in a performance that might have its moments of beauty and innocence, but that keeps the image of the bloodied cross, the long walk to Golgotha, ever before your eyes from the dull thud of the opening bass line onwards. Speeds tend to the swift, banishing any thoughts of sentimentality from a performance as sophisticated emotionally as it is musically.
In an intriguing booklet-note, Mark Seow notes that Bach was so taken with the Pergolesi that he arranged it himself. Sadly this curiosity doesn’t feature here; instead we get Bach on more familiar ground – solo cantatas ‘Widerstehe doch der Sünde’ and ‘Vergnügte Ruh! beliebte Seelenlust!’ performed by Mead. Both showcase a countertenor voice going from strength to strength, powerful but never pushed, pure but not affectedly so. If the phrases span with just a little more freedom, taking away as well as giving, then there would be nothing left to ask.