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GRAMOPHONE ( 08 / 2018)
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Reviewer: David Vickers

Pergolesi’s name was unusually popular in the misattribution stakes within only a few years of his death from tuberculosis at the age of 26. Nevertheless, here are two premiere recordings of large-scale sacred works that are apparently the real deal.

The Mass in D major seems to have been reworked in c1733‑34 from a slightly earlier work by the composer. The tensions during the opening of the Kyrie, packed with surprising harmonies and transitions of dynamics and mood, make an ideal vehicle for the impressively disciplined Ghislieri Chorus and Orchestra. Raffaele Mellace’s scholarly note asserts that ‘this refined chiaroscuro of lights and shadows does not exhibit the violent contrasts of a Caravaggio, but rather the vibrant pastel nuances of Tiepolo or Correggio’, although in the event Giulio Prandi’s full‑blooded handling of fulsome choral passages (the opening of the Gloria) and deft balance of gracefulness and vigour (several movements featuring excellent soloists) probably falls somewhere in between. ‘Qui tollis peccata mundi’ shifts from exquisite suspension-laden choral supplication to a quintet of soloists accompanied by animated strings and the limpid soprano solo ‘Quoniam tu solus sanctus’ is sung with ardent confidence by Marlis Petersen.

The elaborate Marian motet Dignas laudes resonemus exists in a few sources, including a fragmentary autograph, but required some reconstruction; extrovert choruses featuring colourful punctuation from trumpets bookend a succession of three charming arias and a duet sung adroitly by Petersen and Marta Fumagalli. At times these bring to mind Vivaldi’s loveliest solo motets, yet elsewhere the music is unmistakably in the newer Neapolitan style, with flowing strings and telling use of a pair of economical horns (‘Quot procellae, quot horrores’); the duet is a dialogue between Mary and Jesus that foreshadows the celebrated Stabat mater. The range of dynamism, textures and idioms constitutes a revelatory new perspective on Pergolesi’s qualities.

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