Pergolesi’s Marian Vespers

0 of 5 stars

Marian Vespers
[Re-construction by Malcolm Bruno; Edited by Edward Higginbottom and Robert Ross]

Sophie Daneman & Noemi Kiss (sopranos)
Choir of New College, Oxford
Academy of Ancient Music
Edward Higginbottom

World premiere recording made in July 2002 at St Jude’s Church, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London

Reviewed by: Ying Chang

Reviewed: January 2003
CD No: ERATO 0927-46684-2
(2 CDs)

There are three ways to listen to this excellent release; none can be said to be superior to the others. First, as Malcolm Bruno’s careful notes elucidate, Marian Vespers is both a reconstruction of an actual event, the New Year Vespers of 1732 in Naples, held to appeal to St Emidius’s protection against earthquakes, and thus a performance designed as a single dramatic event. Second, it is a more or less comprehensive survey of Pergolesi’s authentic oeuvre as a whole, and will bring to notice much new music from a composer who is essentially known by his Stabat Mater (and through Stravinsky’s Pulcinella). Finally this set will appeal to fans of the New College Choir and Edward Higginbottom. Pergolesi’s sheer melodic invention and the quality of the performance ensure that the performers’ fans will not be disappointed by something – coincidentally – with a far stronger academic backbone.

Pergolesi died so young (1710-1736) that he makes Schubert look middle-aged while Mozart appears an old man. Not only did this restrict the size of Pergolesi’s output but led to posthumous problems of authenticity. Jumping on the bandwagon of his fame as a composer of beautiful tunes, other composers wrote a body of ’fake Pergolesi’ far larger in volume than the composer’s authentic works. Malcolm Bruno goes some way to setting the record straight. He intersperses instrumental pieces – sonatas for violin, cello and organ (as if they were ’responses’ in the service) – within a mixture of choral works – Psalm settings and one of the Magnificat – that are known to have been included in the 1732 service. Other works are included as plausible conjectures, and all are known to be by Pergolesi.

The performances themselves are predictably very fine – though I find Sophie Daneman’s pure-toned voice better suited to the repertoire than Noemi’s Kiss’s sensuous, creamier tones.Both the Academy of Ancient Music and New College Choir live up to their fine reputations, and the recording captures an open naturalness.

Bach’s B minor Mass and Christmas Oratorio are the most famous examples of pieces we think of today as single, unchangeable entities, that were, in point of fact, later compilations of separate works. While it is doubtful a single recording like this, even with the score’s publication by Bärenreiter, can have a comparable influence, this is in every way, aesthetically and historically, an admirable project, at once delightful to listen to and scholarly. It is rightly flagged as a world premiere. I have no reservations at all – it deserves every success.

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