René Jacobs / Akademie für Alte Musik, Berlin

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi: Septem Verba a Christo

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This Septem verba a Christo in cruce moriente proloata (The Seven Words of the Dying Christ on the Cross) was rediscovered nearly a century ago, and scholars down through the years have reached differing conclusions as to whether or not the work was really by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, as one manuscript claimed. More and more copies surfaced, and finally the discovery by musicologist Reinhard Fehling of a new set of parts at an Austrian monastery in 2009 showed that the work was at the very least popular over a good part of Europe, and the forces represented here gave the work its modern-day premiere performance and first recording. You can see why some were skeptical of Pergolesi's authorship, for it doesn't sound much like his more famous Stabat Mater or like anything by anybody else, either. The closest parallel would be Bach's so-called dialogue cantatas, with soloists representing Christ and the soul. The work is Bachian in another way, too, with a set of hidden symmetries and apparent meanings outlined in the album notes. It consists of seven aria pairs, with a few of the arias prefaced by accompanied recitatives. Each of the pairs represents one of the seven last words of Christ on the cross, with Christ (a bass in all cases except for the second "word," where he is a tenor) setting out the basic meaning and the Soul (a soprano, alto, or tenor) providing a kind of emotional reaction that is closely related, both musically and conceptually, to Christ's aria. It's thus a tightly constructed, rather intellectual piece, atypical of Pergolesi. The orchestral writing, featuring horns, trumpet, harp, and lute, is also unlike anything else in Pergolesi's oeuvre. But the work is successful on its own terms, and it receives a fine performance here from conductor René Jacobs, the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, and an impressive quartet of soloists. This odd piece isn't going to displace the Stabat Mater from the top rank of Pergolesi's work, but it adds substantially to the picture of his genius.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Septem Verba a Christo
1 1:57
2 4:38
3 4:02
4 0:55
5 4:23
6 5:04
7 2:01
8 3:35
9 1:18
10 5:59
11 5:57
12 5:40
13 5:19
14 4:13
15 6:09
16 5:35
17 1:36
18 5:33
19 6:25
blue highlight denotes track pick