This anthology of devotional music from 18th-century Venice and Naples offers an interesting and varied programme. Best known is Pergolesi’s Stabat mater, but the settings by Domenico Scarlatti and Bononcini stand well in comparison. The motets by Lotti, Caldara and Alessandro Scarlatti are real discoveries; Norrington’s performances of the latter are particularly fine. Guest’s Pergolesi suffers from a focus of sound which makes the interpretation seem somewhat generalised. However, all these performances give pleasure, while the music is melodically fresh and rhythmically vital.-Terry Barfoot
George Guest is generally regarded among the finest British choral conductors of his time. Some musicologists have attributed the endurance, if not the very survival, of the English cathedral choir to him. He made more than 60 recordings with St. John's Choir (Cambridge), covering a broad range of repertory (Palestrina and Mozart to Tippett and Lennox Berkeley) and garnering consistent critical acclaim.
Vivaldi's sacred music is not so famous as that of his contemporaries Bach and Handel, so this is a bargain opportunity to catch up. You might think Vivaldi's playful, virtuoso Italianate character and Catholic context would produce radically different music, but in George Guest's urgent readings, the mixture of restrainedly exultant choruses and austerely beautiful arias are near-identical to Bach.
The masses of Joseph Haydn have received a great deal of attention over the years, including some intriguing embellishments by students of the composer. This recording aims to get back to some of the Haydn's original vision.
For instance, 'Missa in angustiis,' also known as the "Nelson Mass" because it's debut coincided with the Admiral's great victory over the French, was written for a simple orchestra featuring bassoons (doubling the bass line), trumpets, timpani, solo organ and strings–as appear on this recording. It wasn't until years later that pupils added independent bassoon parts, as well as horns and wind instruments. Strikingly different from many other recordings, adherence to the original orchestration is definitely a point in favor of this collection.
Al Jarreau and George Duke were friends long before they became household names. They began playing together in the mid-1960's in San Francisco as Al Jarreau and the George Duke Trio. The successes of these performances are what helped to launch both their careers. George's tragic passing in August, 2013, inspired Al to record this loving tribute to his longtime friend. With the exception of the fitting title track composed by Jarreau, all the tunes were written by George. Guest artists/collaborators include Gerald Albright, Stanley Clarke, Dr. John, Lalah Hathaway, Boney James, Marcus Miller, Jeffrey Osborne, Kelly Price, Dianne Reeves and Patrice Rushen. There's even a song with George Duke playing on it!
Allegri's early Baroque masterpiece Miserere from around 1630 movingly juxtaposes modal chant with tonality, and was so popular that the Vatican refused to allow it to be performed anywhere else - until the 14 year old Mozart broke the Vatican's monopoly by writing it down from memory after attending a performance. Pergolesi's late Baroque masterpiece Stabat Mater for soprano and alto dates from 1736, the year of his death at the age of 26. It was originally written for male voices but since it's hard to find a castrato these days, it's generally performed by two women or by a female soprano and counter-tenor. This performance uses a female alto but in other respects it's very much a period performance - the sound is intimate and the tempos are lively without any sacrifice of spiritual depth. The soloists, soprano Monika Frimmer and alto Gloria Banditelli, sing beautifully without overdoing the vibrato, and their voices are well matched. The disk also contains a brief "Sonata a quattro" by Vivaldi, and another setting of the Stabat Mater, by the late Baroque composer Antonio Caldara from around 1725.(Kenneth Dorter)