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Pergolesi: Septem Verba A Christo / Jacobs, AAM Berlin

Release Date: 03/12/2013 
Label:  Harmonia Mundi   Catalog #: 902155   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Giovanni Battista Pergolesi
Performer:  Konstantin WolffJulian BehrChristophe DumauxSophie Karthäuser
Conductor:  René Jacobs
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Academy for Ancient Music Berlin
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Performance: ***** (5 out of 5) / Recording: ***** (5 out of 5)

This cycle of seven cantatas sets the last words of Christ of the Cross and meditations upon them addressed to the soul (or anima) of the faithful disciple. It was long thought to be the work of Pergolesi – certainly, there are more than faint echoes of his Stabat Mater here – and the recent unearthing of forgotten manuscripts tips the balance in favour of this attribution.

The spare Gospel words are sung to plainchant, aptly stark in tone, around which the composer entwines brief recitatives and expansive arias offsetting spiritual contemplation with pleading intensity. Instrumentation symbolically underscores the mystical union of the earthly
Read more with the Divine, and the striking palette of orchestral colours includes burnished horns, a muted trumpet, plangent violas and a delicate harp that weaves an ethereal halo of sound.

In this premiere recording, René Jacobs draws a mood of passionate concentration, throwing into high relief the work’s quasi-operatic drama and the chiaroscuro effects that so poignantly reflect the transition from life to death. The four commanding soloists, including countertenor Christophe Dumaux and the sable-toned bass Konstantin Wolff, are placed up-front in the recording, so words are sharply etched. There’s some persuasive playing, too, by the Berlin ensemble: taut strings, magisterial brass and stylish continuo all bring this haunting work back to pulsating life.

– Kate Bolton, BBC Music Magazine "[W]hat's most striking about the whole work is the boldness of the scoring. With the strings and continuo reinforced by two trumpets, a solo horn that shadows Christ's words and a harp, as well as an obbligato viola in the central fourth cantata, the music is both constantly surprising and often profoundly eloquent; Jacobs's soloists, as well as the instrumentalists of the Berlin orchestra, project that sense of devotional wonder without a trace of self-conscious piety." – The Guardian (UK) Read less

Works on This Recording

Septem verba a Christo by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi
Performer:  Konstantin Wolff (Baritone), Julian Behr (Tenor), Christophe Dumaux (Countertenor),
Sophie Karthäuser (Soprano)
Conductor:  René Jacobs
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Academy for Ancient Music Berlin

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  3 Customer Reviews )
 Absolute Excellents! January 28, 2014 By Clifford H C. (Thompson, MB) See All My Reviews "This is a wonderful recording of a "Roman Catholic Musical Melodrama". Rene Jacobs dusts off Pergolesi's masterpiece to produce a sensational performance. Christ is portrayed with remarkable pathos and dignity. Orchestra and soloists are all well balanced and well suited to the breath and scope of the music. A captivating and enjoyable recording that you will listen to over and over. The quality of the recording does Harmonia Mundi's sound engineers proud." Report Abuse
 An Incredibly beautiful discovery May 17, 2013 By Morton W Kahl (Miami, FL) See All My Reviews "Thank God for people like Rene Jacobs and all of our researchers who enlighten our musical world." Report Abuse
 Restrained beauty April 9, 2013 By Julian Forbes See All My Reviews "Rene Jacobs is verging on Rossini these days. The great excavation trenches he made in the Baroque repertoire now teem with successors, all digging away hard for unextracted gems and exhibiting their finds on one of Early Music’s many new specialist record labels. But for fans of Baroque music and its spiritual home in the modern era, the harmonia mundi label, nobody does it like Team Conch and the Belgian, and they will doubtless be pleased by the sight of the cherubic maestro returning from the old pit with a sack of freshly-rehabilitated Pergolesi. Of music’s various bijou genres, the ‘Seven Last Words’ is one of the oddest, with little musically to unite settings by Schutz, Graupner and Haydn. This version adopts a form familiar from the setting of another Golgothan topos, Buxtehude’s Membra Jesu Nostri, presenting a ‘cycle’ of mini-cantatas intended for performance as a single work. Is it by Pergolesi? Manuscripts of the piece have been doing inconclusive musicological rounds since 1930. In recent years, the Dortmund academic Reinhard Fehling has entered the field and unearthed a new copy; the concluding remarks to his thesis on the subject (quoted by Jacobs in his introduction) suggest that he himself feels that he has added data without enhancing certainty. If the maestro is not fully convinced either (“If it actually is by Pergolesi… I can say that he went further here than in his other compositions”, he says on the promotional video), his assessment of the music is enthusiastic and from the off these septem verba receive five-star atelier Jacobs service. The Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin create a rich range of colours from the thick-seamed strings of the introduction to Ute Hartwich’s wonderful muted trumpet obbligato accompaniment to Huc oculos. In the continuo, plucked instruments predominate and are attractively profiled throughout. The singers’ voices do not hit the ears with the same immediacy and there is an occasional sense that their expressive input is not as vividly represented as it could be. A pity: Sophie Karthauser is fervent, Julien Behr ardent, Konstantin Wolff sepulchral, Christophe Dumaux shiny; all sing their music with evident passion and excitement. The recorded sound has a churchy cast that belies its origins in Berlin’s wood-panelled Teldex studios; I would be interested to hear any recording made of the 2012 concert premiere at the Beaune Festival to see whether the singers’ contributions were not in fact more impactful. How good is the music? Record label and publishers (Breitkopf) need to tip the scales and will have gratefully enlisted Hermann Scherchen’s 1950s pronouncement that it is “one of the most heartfelt works of art, full of profound tenderness and an all-conquering sense of beauty.” Even with Jacobs and co.’s dedicated advocacy, I can’t agree. Several arias are very welcome – the brash Quod iubes for soprano in particular, but there is nothing here to compare with, say, Domenico Scarlatti’s Stabat Mater or, to make a fairer comparison, that by Pergolesi himself. I am no musicologist, but it seems to me that the Neapolitan master composed longer, higher-tensile musical statements than those heard here. Something about the shape of the vocal writing doesn’t seem quite right, either. Whether it is by Pergolesi or not, this recording is a must for fans of Baroque music. The Jacobs faction will need no encouragement; neither camp will be disappointed and anyone with a tent in both will be delighted." Report Abuse
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