Stabat Mater - Kirkby / Taylor

Stabat Mater - Kirkby / Taylor


Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Vocal

Vivaldi: Sonata ‘al Santo Sepolcro’ in E flat major RV130, Stabat Mater RV621, Pergolesi: Salve Regina, Bach: "Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden" (Psalm 51) BWV1083 (transcription of Stabat Mater by Pergolesi)

Emma Kirkby (soprano)
Daniel Taylor (counter-tenor)
Theatre of Early Music

With a disc entitled Stabat Mater and featuring Pergolesi among the composers, it would be natural to expect his setting (surely the most famous of all) of this heartfelt meditation on the grief of the Virgin Mary to be included in the programme. Well, it isn’t – and it is! Only a few years after Pergolesi in 1736 had composed his Stabat Mater, Bach made an adaptation of it using a contemporary German version of the biblical Psalm 51. To suit the requirements of the new text Bach made certain alterations to Pergolesi’s vocal parts, but retained the scheme of solo arias and duets between a soprano and an alto voice. He also added a new, independent viola part to the score and rewrote the basso continuo, giving the work a new harmonic vitality.

It’s not only in the form of an arrangement that Pergolesi appears on this disc, however: Psalm 51 is preceded by his own Salve Regina, composed around the same time as the Stabat Mater, and of a similarly expressive, sorrowful character even though the text in question is a hymn of praise to the Virgin Mary. Of Pergolesi’s two settings of the text, the present one – originally in C minor – is the most well-known, and is here performed in the F minor version for alto voice.

Opening the disc is Vivaldi’s brief Sonata al Santo Sepolcro (‘at the Holy Grave’), an instrumental work probably intended for inclusion in an Easter church service. This is followed by – finally! – a Stabat Mater proper, also by Vivaldi and probably dating from 1711 or 1712. Vivaldi used just the first ten verses of the text, creating one of the most sombre of all settings, here performed by the Canadian ensemble Theatre of Early Music and its director, counter-tenor Daniel Taylor, who in Bach is joined by Emma Kirkby, taking on the soprano part.

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PCM recording
Reviews (1)

Review by John Miller - August 16, 2009

This disc's 'Stabat Mater' theme introduces us not only to some interesting programming but also a fascinating pairing of singers. An introductory and solemn sonata da chiesa (church sonata) of Vivaldi's, played with touching gravity by The Theatre of Early Music, sets the mood for the vocal treats to follow. The Theatre of Early Music (TEM), a Canadian-based period instrument group directed by counter-tenor Daniel Taylor, continue as instrumentalists for the rest of the music. They comprise a string quartet with additional double bass, lute and chamber organ. The mellow resonance of the recording venues makes them sound a larger group, yet the inner parts are crystal clear and well-articulated, giving both clarity and persuasive intimacy to proceedings.

Vivaldi's Stabat Mater in F minor (RV 621) is one of his earliest sacred pieces, and was only discovered in 1939, finally to be published a decade later. It uses an abbreviated form of the Medieval text which contemplates the anguish of the Virgin Mary during the crucifixion of Jesus. Vivaldi's version is more sombre and darker than other contemporary settings, and unusually all 10 sections are slow movements - although with different degrees of slowness from adagissimo to andante. This is a challenge to Daniel Taylor, already one of the most sought-after counter-tenors, but his breath control is exemplary, often effortlessly taking only a single breath over astonishingly long legato lines. His approach to the piece is gentle, with pure-toned pianissimos and floating cantilenas exuding a kind of exquisite despondence. Eloquent support comes from the TEM players, who exploit Vivaldi's simple yet inventive string textures, underpinned with a solid, rich bass which grounds the whole reading.

We do not often get a chance to hear Pergolesi's Marian Hymn 'Salve Regina', which uses many suspended dissonances to express the Virgin's pangs in its often tearful progress. Daniel Taylor fully involves himself in its dramatic, colourful and operatic sections, as do TEM, making the most of the strenuous rhythms of 'Ad te Clamavi' and the sweet balm of the penultimate 'Et Jesu Benedictus', marked Andante amoroso.

Pergolesi's own Stabat Mater was famous throughout Europe during his lifetime, and one JS Bach was attracted enough to it not only to make a transcript for personal study, but to recast it somewhat into a new piece (BWV1083), using words based on Psalm 51. He sympathetically retouched vocal and instrumental lines and extended Pergolesi's final fugue, ending it in the major to take account of the new words.

I first encountered Emma Kirkby's angelic voice on Hyperion's 1982 revelatory 'Feather on the Breath of God' disc of Hildegarde of Bingen. She has been an extraordinary and influential figure within the early music movement, and in 2007 was made Dame Emma in the Queen's Birthday Honours for her services to music. It was an inspired decision to have the vastly experienced Dame partner the young tyro Daniel Taylor in BWV 1083 - no matter that women were not allowed to sing in Bach's Lutheran services, or that the alto part would also have been taken by a boy. The result here is simply glowing, with the two vocalists intertwining and sparking off one another. Because of the different words, Bach's Psalm 51 is rich in a variety of emotions from tearful poignancy to joyful celebration, so Kirkby and Taylor are able to exploit a bewitching spectrum of tonal colours. Taylor's direction of the Theatre of Early Music players gives full measure to Bach's dancing tempos and together they and the vocalists lay bare all the Psalm's range of human emotions.

Daniel Taylor also features in Psalm 51 on an Atma Baroque SACD with Karina Gauvin; this too is a fine version but the soprano has a notably operatic voice compared with Dame Emma Kirkby. They are accompanied by Les Violons Du Roy, a significantly larger ensemble than TEM.

This is an inspired and unusual compilation of Baroque sacred music, truthfully recorded with an intimacy which allows the singers to communicate directly with the listener. Selfless and inspiring music-making, despite its often poignant tone.

Copyright © 2009 John Miller and


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