PERGOLESI: Stabat Mater; Orfeo – Barbara Hendricks, soprano/ Ulrika Tenstam, mezzo-soprano/ Drottningholms Baroque Ensemble – Arte Verum

by | May 4, 2010 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

PERGOLESI: Stabat Mater; Orfeo – Barbara Hendricks, soprano/ Ulrika Tenstam, mezzo-soprano/ Drottningholms Baroque Ensemble – Arte Verum 007, 51:22 [Distr. by Allegro] ****:

62-year-old Barbara Hendricks has had quite the international career, making her home for a good part of it in France. She is quite versatile in her activities, singing lieder and jazz, while being involved in many philanthropic and charitable activities. Here she sets her sights on a work that had a great deal of meaning for her earlier in her career, now returning to it finally in 2007 with the chance of recording it with a period ensemble—something she always wanted to do.

Pergolesi probably has had the most lasting career of anyone who died at only age 26; indeed the whole story of his retiring to a monastery to complete the Stabat Mater, knowing his end was near and struggling to beat the clock, is one full of pathos, as is the music itself, one of the great religious testaments of the Baroque era. His star is well-deserved; the eight operas he completed almost redefined the genre and set the stage for characters like Susanna in Mozart’s Figaro and Rosina in Rossini’s Barber. But his church music, now some of the most famous of the Neapolitan School, has never been out of fashion or hearing, the Stabat and the Salve Regina standards worthy of the name that will always be so.

Hendricks has lost some of the magic touch. I compared her singing to a wonderful Philips disc from years ago of her singing Faure, and the voice now has some more wobble and teeters slightly as if control is going to be lost. Fortunately it never is, and what she now lacks of her former prowess is made up for in her stately and moving interpretation of Pergolesi. Orfeo, one of many compositions of that name set by composers over the years, is one of Pergolesi’s cantatas meant for the concert hall without scenery, dramatic scenes put to music. It is a beautiful work, one deserving of far more than the four versions currently available domestically.

With the Stabat Mater choices improve greatly. Of the more than 100 recordings there are about 50 obtainable. My favorites to this point have been the full orchestra recording with Dutoit and a young June Anderson and Cecilia Bartoli on London. Rene Jacobs contributes to the pool on Harmonia mundi, though I might discard a recording I previously liked, that found on Propius Records. It’s not that it has lost its luster, but this new Hendricks recording surpasses it, though the SACD sound on Propius may make me reconsider its fate.

This record has only 51 minutes, and easily could have accommodated the Salve Regina; that would have made this release almost unsurpassable. As is, it is still very good, but faces a lot of competition from fuller discs. Nevertheless, artistry like this must receive all due honor.

— Steven Ritter

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