CD+DVD Reviews

Stabat Mater, A Tribute to Pergolesi = Anna Netrebko, sop. & others (CD + Bonus DVD) – DGG

The CD half is really a win-win disc for all concerned, including listeners.

Published on June 30, 2011

Stabat Mater, A Tribute to Pergolesi = Anna Netrebko, sop. & others (CD + Bonus DVD) – DGG

“Stabat Mater, A Tribute to PERGOLESI” = Stabat Mater; Sinfonia to the Sacred Drama La conversione e morte di San Guglielmo duca d’Aquitania; Nel chiuso centro; Questo e il piano – Anna Netrebko, soprano/ Marianna Pizzolato, mezzo-soprano/ Orchestra of the Accademia Nationale di Santa Cecilia – DGG 00289 477 8857, 73:16 [Plus Bonus DVD: Behind the Scenes video] ****:

Young Mr. Giovanni Battista Pergolesi was not long for this world—at only 26 years of age he left it, but leaving behind an admirable legacy of fame and quality of composition. As the inventor of the opera buffa, solidified by the popularity of his La serva padrona, he indulged his talents in all sorts of vocal forms, and the blood of the music drama was said to run in his veins. But it was to the sacred realm that he kept returning, leaving us with a host of classic works that still adorn baroque and sacred concerts.  Is there any more moving and absolutely scintillating opening of any piece any time than the sacral dissonances that grace the first movement of the Stabat Mater? The man did have dramatic instincts, and when married to his innate sense of the sacred, magical things happened.

But he was equally effective in every genre he tried. Just listen to the beauties of Nel chiuso centro (“In the inescapable depths”), a short memory of the Orpheus and Eurydice story, for some truly moving and pathos-ridden melody. And Questo e il piano (“This is the plain”) speaks of the place where two lovers met until the union was disavowed by the intrusion of jealousy into the relationship. Pergolesi captures the wanton regret and anger at the unhappy occurrence of jealousy’s entrance.
This album may be called “A Tribute to Pergolesi” but it has “Tribute to Netrebko” written all over it, from the (short) interview on the DVD (almost a waste of space, and you can find everything on YouTube) to the deluxe package and color photos, to the opening blurbs in the notes that speak of this being a “new page” in Anna’s career. Well, why not? She is a staple of DGG’s limited classical stable, and definitely one of the classical world’s fillies of the moment. And on top of it, she is a genuine talent as well and refreshingly iconoclastic when it comes to crashing some of the staid barriers that have kept audiences away from opera. And her looks, in this media age, don’t hurt either.
But is this really the “enormous success” that the booklet notes speak of? In one way, yes it is. The forces involved were able to negotiate the large Baden-Baden Festspielhaus nicely, and the recording captures the results very well. Netrebko, who has had no work in baroque music before, is a perfect complement to upcoming mezzo Marianna Pizzolato, the two ranges of voice feeling like the upper and lower of the same singer. But I think it is Pappano who holds it all together, one of my favorite younger conductors, and he has a wonderful sense of style in this music, imparting period practices when needed, yet still turning in impassioned readings, one cantata for soprano, one for mezzo, a sparkling overture, and the indefatigable Stabat Mater. It’s really a win-win disc for all concerned, including listeners.

Is it the best out there? Impossible to tell. I have heard a lot, and have still not found the perfect Stabat, though this one is truly excellent, and the cantatas wonderful. The old period instrument reading by Rene Jacobs with a boy soprano on Harmonia mundi now sounds, well, period-dated, and the sound is not the best.  I reviewed Barbara Hendricks recently and she now sounds a little bloated compared to this reading, though the period instruments sound very good and Hendricks has a real feel for the music. The only competing “star quality” recording to this one is the London Dutoit/Montreal/June Anderson/ Cecelia Bartoli recording which uses unabashed modern instruments and quite a few of them, and while Dutoit lacks Pappano’s genuine spiritual import in this music, the contrast between Bartoli and Anderson is excellent, and Anderson seems a little more suited to the role than Netrebko does here. Nonetheless, this coupling is superb, the performances excellent, and one hopes Netrebko will continue her non-meat-and-potatoes exploration of more esoteric repertory. We are still waiting, despite 50-odd recordings of the Stabat Mater, for a definitive one, and we may never get it. If that’s the case, this one and the Dutoit will fill the bill nicely, and the program as a whole is very engaging.

By the way, apparently the disc is being offered both as a single and as a pairing with the DVD. The latter adds about $14 to the price—not worth it.

– Steven Ritter




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