By Bryant Manning
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736) died of consumption when he was just 26 years old, leaving only a slim output of music. (His name is attached to hundreds of manuscripts but only a couple dozen of them have proven to be authentic.) Last week would have marked the tricentennial of Pergolesi’s birth, and Garry Clarke and his Baroque Band saw fit to celebrate the occasion with a trio of concerts beginning Friday night at the Music Institute’s Nichols Hall. If there was a lesson to be learned, it’s that this talented ensemble shouldn’t wait for another anniversary to bring out this composer’s vibrant and provocative music. Pergolesi’s setting of the Stabat Mater, divided into 12 sections and sung in tandem by mezzo-soprano Jennifer Lane and soprano Jennifer Ellis Kampani, is thought to be his final work. The fact that this dying young man created such an ecstatic swan song is remarkable. In this achingly stunning depiction of the “Seven Sorrows of the Virgin Mary,” Pergolesi found equal favor with raw, weeping anguish and sunny Neapolitan optimism. Both of the vocalists’ voices were full of ardor and finesse. Lane’s darkly hued and resounding mezzo evocatively anchored Kampani’s airy and nimble soprano. The two women, garbed in wonderfully ornate wardrobes, appeared to have a genuine rapport with each other. The highlight was the No. 5 Duet, where the mother of Christ is grieving for her mutilated son. The soloists sung the 14th-century Latin text with such pleading drama and clean articulation, you could almost conjure her pained visage through the lachrymose expression. Less convincing was the penultimate duet where the vocal pair seemed buried by the volume of the ensemble playing, which was only a tiny irregularity on otherwise beautiful sonic balancing. Clarke, who usually helps out on violin, remained solely in the conductor’s role all night and led the band in a resolute performance. Perhaps CSO music director-designate Riccardo Muti, who was reared on Pergolesi in his youth, will bring this work to a bigger stage in the near future. The first half of the program featured Pergolesi’s spry and ephemeral Sinfonia from O frate ‘nnamurato. The wonderful energy the ensemble found here set the tone for the entire evening, particularly in Vivaldi’s Concerto in C Major, RV 114. Last October there were nagging intonation issues which now seem to have all but vanished; this was period-instrument playing at its finest. David Schrader spun stardust on his harpsichord and a rousing forte climax earned raucous applause. Alessandro Scarlatti’s solemn Concerto Grosso No. 1 in F Major was an apt primer for the Stabat Mater, here shaded by the lovely stylings of bassoonist Sally Jackson.