The Stabat Mater is a 13th-century Catholic hymn to Mary, which portrays her suffering as Jesus Christ's mother during his crucifixion. Its author may be either the Franciscan friar Jacopone da Todi or Pope Innocent III. The title comes from its first line, Stabat Mater dolorosa, which means "the sorrowful mother was standing". The hymn is sung at the liturgy on the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows. The Stabat Mater has been set to music by many Western composers.
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
Until recently all traces of Alessandro Scarlatti’s oratorio Il martirio di Santa Cecilia had been lost. Discovered in the manuscript collection of the Fondation Martin Bodmer in Cologny, near Geneva, this oratorio which had been undiscovered for decades was immediately performed in Zurich. Karl Böhmer (the booklet author) and Oliver Mattern produced the first modern edition of the work. The interpreters on that occasion are again featured on the present recording. This sacred tragedy could rightly be termed one of the most dramatic and mature oratorios of the Roman baroque. Although there are no choruses, the action is portrayed with long recitative dialogues between the protagonists, and the music’s strongest moments come when the recitatives go over into expressive accompagnati, widely ranging ariosi, and affective arias. Like all of Scarlatti’s gloomy, fatalistic oratorios, this work culminates in bloody scenes of murder and martyrdom.
Alessandro Scarlatti is generally considered one of the most important Italian composers of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. But his music, although it has received more attention in recent years, is still largely unknown. This is partly due to the large quantity of his output: in the genre of the chamber cantata alone at least six hundred compositions are with certainty attributable to him.
Alessandro Scarlatti was only 24 and had just begun his enormously successful operatic career when he set a libretto by that great Roman patron of the arts, Cardinal Pamphili, on the subject of repentance and divine grace. It was performed before a distinguished audience by a small group of leading singers and instrumentalists of the day in March 1685—the year of the birth of Alessandro's son Domenico (in fact, as a matter of interest, three days before the birth of J. S. Bach). This simple little morality (oratorio is too grandiose a term for it) shows Magdalen torn between youthful pleasures and repentance for hedonistic living: the subject is treated in a sequence of extremely brief arias (and a few duets) and recitatives, which add up to a rather bitty effect, all the more because of seemingly haphazard key-sequences. There is little evidence of the da capo aria form later to be so closely associated with Scarlatti: there are, however, several examples (as in the very first aria) of 'devise' openings.
…Now then: FIVE CDs of one male alto singing Baroque cantatas? If you suppose this would be too much of a good thing, you haven't yet grasped the expressive virtuosity of Gerard Lesne. The man sings every phrase with such engagement that you forget you're listening to a singer and imagine that you're hearing a passionate human 'speaking' musically just to you. There is also an immense range of compositional resources in baroque music - a bag of tricks, if you will - which only the finest performers like Lesne can fully exploit. And just in case you suffer from a short musical attention span, the generous producers oat Virgin Classics have built in a couple of instrumental sonatas to let your ears re-set…