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  41:1 (09-10 /2017)
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Harmonia Mundi

Code-barres / Barcode : 3149020758922


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Reviewer: George Chien


How do I categorize this disc? Or, more mundanely, where do I slot it on my shelves? Is it Pergolesi with two substantial Bach fillers, or a showpiece for soloist Tim Mead with a little help from a friend (i.e., Lucy Crowe)? You won’t get a hint from the program order, which places the Stabat Mater between Cantata 54 and Cantata 170. Mead sings in all three pieces, two of which are often recorded in recitals by celebrated altos, male or female. And Crowe seems an ideally chosen partner for him in the Pergolesi. However, the album’s front cover may reveal the intent: Pergolesi is on top, and the featured artist is conductor David Bates. The two soloists get the smallest font size on the display. (Let me add that where I file my discs isn’t always governed by their jacket hierarchies.)

On the surface the Pergolesi-Bach juxtaposition seems curious. Bach is commonly regarded as the resolute defender of the old order, the musical conservator of all things Baroque. Pergolesi, in his short life, was the harbinger of the new style that would supplant and suppress all that Bach stood for. Now, course, we know that the old man not only knew of Pergolsi but also copied the Stabat Mater (albeit touching up a few “rough” spots) for his own use. Johann S and Giovanni B are compatible after all.

Tim Mead belongs to a long line of superb English countertenors, and this disc offers ample proof of that. His ability here to negotiate and articulate the fastest and most intricate passages is nothing short of remarkable, and he does so throughout the range without sacrificing beauty of tone. Lucy Crowe, as mentioned, is a sympathetic partner, equally adept. La Nuova Musica, the all-Brit (or almost all-Brit) chamber orchestra with an Italian name, is all virtuosity as well. Maestro Bates’s hair-raising tempos put it to the test, particularly in certain parts of the Stabat Mater where he has replaced solemnity with speed, and it passes with flying colors. I’m not convinced that that swap was advantageous, but it makes for exciting listening. That caveat aside, the superior singing on this disc earns it a favorable nod.

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