Friday, October 1, 2010

In review--The Tears of Our Mothers

Anna Prohaska and Bernarda Fink
Akademie Fur Alte Musik Berlin
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater
Harmonia Mundi

Easily one of my favorite classical music recordings for 2010, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater performed by the baroque orchestra Akademie Fur Alte Musik Berlin with soprano Anna Prohaska and alto Bernarda Fink hailing from the pianto genre. Antonio Vivaldi’s Sinfonia RV 169 (“Al Santo Sepolcro”) and Pietro Antonio Locatelli’s Concerto #4 (“Il Pianto d’Arianna”) frame Pergolesi’s masterpiece. We are also treated to Pergolesi’s Salve Regina for 2 voices. I have listened to this recording several times now and it grows in beauty and power with each listen.

Stabat Mater revolves around Mother Mary and the tragic loss of her son Jesus Christ, but the tragic theme expands outward and encompasses all mothers who have lost their children prematurely and through tragic means. This could include the anguish of losing a son or daughter to war, injustice, or the accidents of life. On one hand, we hear the mother’s love for her child which nourishes our souls, but on the other hand, we hear laments that pierce at our collective hearts.

The recording itself features stellar performances by alto Bernarda Fink and soprano Anna Prohaska, whose voices blend seamlessly into one another. The singers strike an alchemical note and now it’s hard for me to imagine any other duo performing this piece. The arresting Fac, ut ardeat cor meumn (track 13), represents the tour de force of this recording. The baroque orchestra Akademie Fur Alte Musik Berlin also appears in top form, not only backing the vocalists on Pergolesi’s works, but also performing the instrumental works by Vivaldi and Locatelli. A youthful vigor comes through and the performance feels fresh and invigorating.

Stabat Mater for strings, basso continuo, alto and soprano must be the most stunning baroque work I’ve ever heard. The manner in which the two voices soar, then collide into one another, at other times they blend seamlessly into one another, gives me goose bumps. The strings provide tension and a haunting quality not so easy to describe. I can’t even imagine what the composer was feeling when he penned this composition in the early 1700s. However, his biographer Charles de Brosses described the work as, “His Stabat Mater is regarded as a masterpiece of Latin music. There is scarcely another piece more highly praised than this one for the profound learning of its harmonies.” (Liner notes).

I think this work stands the test of 300 plus years and the vocals ring out with bell-like clarity heralding both ancient and contemporary times. As far as laments go, Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater could bring a great deal of solace to funerals given for young lives cut short. However, I just enjoy listening to its beauty, grace, and elegance. For me, this music represents a joyful discovery.

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