There are many moving musical settings of the medieval sequence “Stabat Mater” (“Sorrowful Mother”) that contemplates the suffering of Christ as experienced by the Virgin Mary standing next to the cross during his crucifixion, but none more celebrated nor exquisite than that of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, whose 300th birthday anniversary is January 4, 2010 and is being celebrated all year long. Baroque Band, Chicago’s period-instrument orchestra, gets a head start on the festivities during the very week of the birthday itself with a series of performances of Pergolesi’s most famous work.
Pergolesi’s “Stabat Mater” is shrouded in legend since its frail composer wrote it very young and then died soon after at the age of 26. It was commissioned to take the place of another celebrated “Stabet Mater,” that of Scarlatti, and because of its beauty and its composer’s mysterious death soon after the work’s completion, the piece is a staple of major Italian churches during Lent, and is often presented in an elaborate, operatic manner that obscures much of the work’s original intentions. (Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director designate and fellow Neapolitan Riccardo Muti is a particular fan of the work presented in this grandiose style.) The Baroque Band approach will be to strip away these excesses and restore a sense of the original performance style of the piece.
Many historically informed performances of the work pair a female soprano with a male alto or countertenor, but of course, it is almost impossible to achieve Pergolesi’s original balances with that ironically very modern combination. Since the original was written for male soprano and male alto and we don’t castrate singers any longer, many find having an Early Music female soprano and female mezzo-soprano the closest modern configuration to the blend and sound that Pergolesi was after. To that end, soprano Jennifer Ellis Kampani and mezzo-soprano Jennifer Lane foot the bill admirably. The program also includes the Sinfonia from Pergolesi’s “O frate ‘nnamurato,” Scarlatti’s Concerto Grosso No. 1 in f minor and Vivaldi’s Concerto in C major, RV 114. (Dennis Polkow)
January 8, Music Institute of Chicago’s Nichols Hall, 1490 Chicago, Evanston, 7:30pm; January 9, Hyde Park Union Church, 5600 S. Woodlawn, 7:30pm; January 13, Symphony Center’s Grainger Ballroom, 220 S. Michigan, (312)235-2368, 7:30pm, $15-$35.