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GRAMOPHONE (11 /2013)
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Reviewer: David Vickers

Fasiolis leads further Steffani explorations from Bartoli, I Barocchisti and others

The proclamation that Cecilia Bartoli ‘continues her Mission to discover the music of Agostino Steffani’ might lead an unsuspecting public to assume nobody of note has recorded Steffani’s Stabat mater before, but the celebrated work sent by the composer in 1728 to London’s recently founded Academy of Ancient Music has been recorded eminently by Gustav Leonhardt (DHM) and Harry Christophers (Coro). Bartoli sings little during this 73-minute collection – and her contributions are the weakest link. It seems odd to assign the star diva’s pinched vowels and restrained timbre to the simple plaintive introduction (‘Stabat mater dolorosa’) instead of a member of the choral ensemble. Franco Fagioli sings in the same unbridled way in his brief solo ‘Quis est homo’ (in fact, it’s hard to tell the countertenor and Bartoli apart); Daniel Behle and Julian Prégardien are clumsy in the tenor duet ‘Inflammatus et accensus’. This anachronistically over-egged performance is exacerbated by an overpoweringly loud choir and adds up to a strange kind of pseudoBaroque Rossini rather than the stile antico intimacy and contrapuntal refinement Steffani’s music cries out for. Diego Fasolis presents six other shorter works, most written for Munich early in Steffani’s career: the Choir of Radiotelevisione Svizzera is disciplined in the concise yet impressive eight-part Beatus vir and short antiphon Triduanas a Domino but the brass doubling is a fiction invented by Fasolis. Bartoli returns to centre stage for a garish performance of the motet Non plus me ligate.

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