Rinaldo Alessandrini / Concerto Italiano

Pergolesi: Messa Romana; Alessandro Scarlatti: Messa per il Santissimo Natale

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Italian historical-performance conductor Rinaldo Alessandrini and his Concerto Italiano are known for brisk, even rambunctious interpretations of the music of Vivaldi and other Baroque composers, underpinned intellectually by the conviction that the dominant musical form of the day, one that would have shaped the performance of other vocal genres, was opera. With these masses by Pergolesi and Alessandro Scarlatti, however, the performers are dealing with music steeped in older traditions and little touched by contemporary operatic trends. And once again Alessandrini makes startling, invigorating music. Concerto Italiano fans may miss the presence of the divine Sara Mingardo and other vocal powerhouses who have appeared on Alessandrini recordings in the past, but they'd be out of place in Pergolesi's subtle 10-voice textures (with one voice per part), where the occasional solos are accents to an already wide range of colors, not opportunity for vocal display. The Pergolesi Messa Romana is much less frequently heard than his Stabat mater swan song, but Alessandrini makes a good case for its value. He also illuminates the connections between Pergolesi and Scarlatti, who was likely his model in his sacred works. There are, naturally, a few fireworks in the Pergolesi, including a rather strange double-speed passage at the end that, one suspects, is amenable to other interpretations. But the overall effect is airy, with a delightful shifting of textures and harmonies with unexpected twists that demonstrate the brilliance of the young composer as surely as his better-known pieces. The sound environment comes from the Parco della Musica in Rome, a cavernous creation by modernist architect Renzo Piano that actually replicates a cathedral space pretty well but allows for some tweaking by Naïve's consistently brilliant engineers. A wonderful Baroque choral disc that will be a novelty even for listeners who own a lot of them.

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