DOMENICO SCARLATTI: Stabat Mater; Madrid Mass; Cibavit nos; Te Deum – Ensemble Jacques Moderne/ Joel Suhubiette, director – Ligia 0202219-10, 55:00 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
If you ever wondered what Palestrina sounded like in the early 17th century, Domenico Scarlatti, and especially his Stabat Mater, might give you a clue. This work, among all of Scarlatti’s many balanced and equally adept compositions, occupies a special place in the hearts of music lovers for its amazing sense of proportion (10 singers, including four sopranos with no particular hierarchy), exquisite melodies, and highly personal expression. There is no autograph score, and many are the arrangements according to the number of forces involved, from this sparing edition with cello, bass, theorbo, harpsichord, and organ, to fully-complemented symphony orchestra. Many different versions work, but I must confess that this is one of the most emotionally satisfying performances I have yet to hear, intimate, affecting, and pious all at once. The 15-year-old Ensemble Jacques Moderne play simply splendidly, and the singers sing as if the words really do mean something to them.
Of course when we move into the realm of the mass, exemplified here by the “Madrid” Mass (so-called because it was copied in 1754 for the Spanish Royal Chapel) we have a work of pure polyphony in its continual counterpoint, with the same melodic material used in different sections to serve as a unifying element. The work is not high polyphony in the sense of the North European masters, but instead maintains a particularly Italianate flavor, and is more detached in tone, suitable for a mass. This one is beautifully done, ousting the performance of the Melodi Cantores on Tactus that I reviewed previously. Cibavit nos is a small, short sacred motet that moves rapidly to its energetic conclusion. The Te Deum, the only one we know of by this composer, is a rousing two-choir composition that makes wonderful use of the traditional split choir concept, with each group providing excellent contrast both in material and in tonal quality.
I enjoyed this album tremendously, one of the best recommendations on the market for a Domenico Scarlatti choral sampler. The sound is warm and resonant, well-nigh perfect for this music.
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