Barbara Schlick / Fabio Biondi

Pergolesi: Salve Regina

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This 1993 recording, originally released on the Opus 111 label, features violinist and leader Fabio Biondi, who has gone on to become one of the bona fide stars of the early music scene. Another future star was Rinaldo Alessandrini, heard here on organ and harpsichord continuo. Their talents combine with those of veteran Baroque soprano Barbara Schlick to produce a really exceptional recording of sacred music from the early eighteenth century. Schlick has an agile, airy voice that's ideal for the sound of Biondi's six-person Europa Galante group -- two violins, viola, cello, keyboard, and theorbo. She handles the elegant vocal lines of Pergolesi's two Salve regina settings beautifully, interacting with the fascinatingly detailed playing of the musicians to produce a graceful dance of voice, sweet strings, and buzzing, jumping continuo. But the real find here is the Salve regina of Leonardo Leo, much less well known than Pergolesi's, and, unexpectedly, a more modern work that sounds like Mozart in places. Leo began (as Pergolesi did elsewhere, but not really in these religious works) to fool with the harmonic rhythm, stretching out single chords and letting the soprano go to work in melodies and ornaments that are caressing and seductive rather than balanced and dignified. Hear his Largo setting of the text "Ad te suspiramos gementes et flentes" (Toward thee we utter our sighs, groaning and weeping). Leo sets this text with a long chromatic line, to be sure, but it's one that oranments a basically diatonic framework rather than carrying any deep pain. In general Leo's is a light conception of the Salve regina, but it pointed the way toward the Classical era, and Schlick catches its sensuous tone delightfully. Never rising above moderate dynamic levels, she never shows the slightest strain in music that isn't easy to sing quietly. A superior reissue and an essential disc for anyone who likes Pergolesi and wants to hear more of the music that surrounded him. The Abbey of Saint-Michel en ThiƩrache offered a sound environment that rendered these ethereal proceedings in perfect detail.

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