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GRAMOPHONE (03/2022)
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Reviewer: David Threasher

A surprise awaits those expecting the voices of soprano Jodie Devos and mezzo Adèle Charvet to intertwine in the anguished suspensions that open Pergolesi’s Stabat mater. Julien Chauvin has taken his cue from the knowledge that the work was performed at the Concert Spirituel in Paris repeatedly in the latter half of the 18th century after the fashion of the grand motet. A choral arrangement of the work was current in the French capital during this time; although it is now lost, Chauvin has reconstructed it, adding choral sopranos and altos to seven of the work’s 13 movements and giving the two fugues over to the choir completely. So it’s not the two solo voices that weave their mesmerising spell in that epochal, influential opening duet but the airy (mostly) girls’ voices of the Maîtrise de Radio France, and they are present almost throughout, resting in only four movements.

So this reading is not directly comparable with the immediate competition, nor with the more richly orchestrated arrangement Bach made of the work (Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden, BWV1083, using a paraphrase of Psalm 51, the Miserere). Despite the choral element, the effect is more operatic than might be expected: at the opposite end of the scale from the aching austerity of Christophe Rousset’s version (with soprano and countertenor), closer to the sensual, spiritual drama of Riccardo Minasi’s (soprano and mezzo). The visceral string attack of Le Concert de la Loge and the vivid sound frame Alpha provides for it bring a harrowing, almost fierce intensity to the dissonances in which the work abounds.

The intelligent coupling is Haydn’s Symphony No 49, a work that is in the same key, F minor (throughout – only the Minuet’s Trio offers the brief respite of F major), and which deals in its own way with Christ’s Passion. Again, it’s not as you’d expect: Chauvin imagines a Lenten performance in which the oboe and horn parts are replaced by organ, subtly at the outset but vividly and dramatically in the Trio and finale. Perhaps neither performance is for everyday listening but this is nevertheless a thought-provoking approach to both works.

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