Agostino Steffani – Stabat Mater
Nuria Rial: soprano, Yetzabel Aria Fernandez: soprano, Cecilia Bartoli, mezzosoprano, Elena Carzaniga: contralto, Franco Fagioli: countrotenor, Daniel Behle: tenor, Julian Prégardien: tenor, Salvo Vitale: bass
Coro della Radiotelevisione Svizzera
Diego Fasolis, conductor
This recording, together with Dances and Ouvertures and Mission, represents the trilogy of Agostino Steffani’s works recorded by I Barocchisti and Diego Fasolis. The album is simply entitled Stabat Mater, but actually it is not the only one piece recorded here, even if it is the most important not only for the duration (it takes up half of the total time), but also for its spiritual aura and religious fervour.
Stabat Mater was written between April 1727 and January 1728 and Steffani defined it his latest work and his masterpiece. His Stabat Mater mixed the sacred polyphony of the sixteenth century with passages in the next century style, reminding of the style of Henry Purcell, Steffani’s contemporary, and may have been influenced by the interest of the Academy of Ancient Music, even if the composer did write it a cappella. It has often been compared to Alessandro Scarlatti’s Stabat Mater.
Stabat Mater is accompanied by six other compositions, never recorded before. They are sacred pieces of various genre, of which I report here the little amount of information I have found (or, in one case, I have not found):
- Beatus vir, composed in 1674 or in 1676, is the first work in which Steffani added instruments (two violins) to the basso continuo,
- Non plus me ligare is attributed to Steffani by late manuscripts. This is his only composition for voice and two violins, so Colin Timms, in his splendid study dedicated to Steffani (Polymath of the Baroque: Agostino Steffani and His Music), suggests that it was written for a specific occasion, «presumably for a Catholic patron or to a friend in difficult or pain, or close to death»,
- Triduanas a Domino is a polyphonic antiphon written in 1676 for St Cecilia’s day,
- Laudate pueri (1673) is connected with the membership of Steffani to the Congregazione dei Musici di Roma,
Sperate in Deo,
- Qui diligit Mariam, composed in the same year of the Stabat Mater and sent to the Academy of Ancient Music in 1727 and then was composed for voices and continuo.
Eight soloists are engaged in the present recording. Among them, the most important names are those of Cecilia Bartoli and Franco Fagioli. As for the mezzo-soprano, she is here much better than usual, despite the vibrato of her voice. However, Steffani’s writing keeps her away from the usual agitation and reminds me of the first part of her career (in particular to her recording of Rossini’s Stabat Mater), so that you can recognize even a certain expressiveness and liveliness in Non plus me ligate.
I found infinitely more annoying the countertenor Fagioli, which shares with Bartoli the unpleasant vibrato and demonstrates a temperament that sometimes makes him a little clumsy. The bass Salvo Vitale is, in my opinion, the best of the soloists for voice and technique, as well as for expression. The two tenors, Daniel Behle and Julian Prégardien, are also excellent, as alto Elena Carzaniga and sopranos Yetzabel Aria Fernandez and Nuria Rial; the latter, in particular, seemed to me better here than in her solo albums, in which I did not particularly appreciate her.
Diego Fasolis’s conduction and I Barocchisti are absolutely impressive.