One could weep to think what great works Giovanni Battista Pergolesi might have composed had he not died from tuberculosis aged just 26. That's the cup-half-empty view, anyway. The cup-half-full view is that, despite his early death, this 18th century Italian left us a collection of musical masterpieces whose beauty, compositional skill and often-spine-tingling passion discount his youth. 2010 marks the 300th anniversary of Pergolesi's birth, and Claudio Abbado is marking it with his Pergolesi Project: a year-long, three-album undertaking of Pergolesi's works, conducting the Orchestra Mozart. The first disc in the series featured the Stabat Mater, the Violin Concerto and the Salve Regina in C minor, and was superb. His second disc, this time all sacred works, is just as good.
In terms of overall musical interpretation, this CD neatly dovetails into the first in terms of overall sound: a cleanly executed period style, rendered luxuriously beautiful thanks to the warmth and easy fluidity of the playing. However, there's a marked difference in the musical forces. Whilst the previous recording required only solo singers, this second requires a choir, thanks to the inclusion of two large choral works, the Missa S. Emilio and the Laudate pueri Dominum. The Swiss Radio Choir's performance is a delight: bright yet substantial tone, clean-as-a-whistle delivery of the tricky passagework, and highly expressive reading of the musical lines and the texts. The soloists are also going for gold; the Salve Regina is sung with heartfelt yearning here by Sara Mingardo in its later version F minor for alto. Then, altogether different is the dramatic and little-heard aria, "Manca la guida al pie" from the religious opera that the 21-year-old Pergolesi wrote as a graduation piece. Veronica Cangemi's honeyed, pure-toned performance plays on every emotional nuance, with wonderfully controlled ornamentation.
All in all, another Pergolesi disc from Abbado that feels like musical perfection. Just go listen, and enjoy.