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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA67108
Recording details: February 1999
St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Ben Turner
Engineered by Philip Hobbs
Release date: September 1999
Total duration: 27 minutes 33 seconds

'Remarkable and beautiful settings' (Gramophone)

'Heart-melting … full of grace and beauty' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Outstanding performances' (American Record Guide)

'In both works, the solo voices, strings and organ continuo and the 18-voice chorus in the d'Astorga, present this well-conceived programme in a highly attractive and stylistic manner under the expert direction of Robert King, while the recorded sound is wonderfully transparent … It would be difficult to imagine more satisfactory interpretations than these.' (Gramophone Early Music)

'Boccherini's chamber-music output is so prolific—more than 120 string quintets, 100 quartets and almost 50 trios—that few today can know his entire oeuvre. But this setting of the Stabat Mater—in F minor like the famous one by Pergolesi, its evident model—is a little masterpiece: spartanly scored for two sopranos and tenor and accompaniment of four strings and continuo, this "sequence for the Feast of Seven Dolours of the BVM" shares the intimate quality of Boccherini's chamber music, with only rare opportunities for operatic display. The earlier setting by the Spaniard Emanuele D'Astorga, a near contemporary of Handel's, is more overtly flamboyant, yet, with its chorus and mezzo and bass soloists—darker in colour. The King's performances are outstanding, with superb solo contributions from Susan Gritton, Sarah Fox, Susan Bickley and Paul Agnew. Two marvellous discoveries.' (The Sunday Times)

'Another well-deserved hit for this splendid team' (Classic CD)

'SACD versus CD? Better depth, separation and transparency; simply more 'there' (Hi-Fi News)

'Recommandé’ (Répertoire, France)

Stabat mater
composer
author of text
Sequence for the Feast of Seven Dolours of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
In his day, Astorga was best known for his chamber cantatas, of which more than one hundred and fifty survive. These are well written, tuneful and were thoroughly popular. Only the first Act of the opera Dafni now survives. But by far his most enduring work has proved to be a setting of the Stabat Mater, his only surviving sacred composition. Whether it was the apparent romance of his adventurous life that attracted people, or the allure of a wild nobleman who wrote good music, a veritable cult for Astorga grew up during the nineteenth century. Epics, dramas and novellas were written and, in the absence of much fact, legends were invented, colourfully describing the gruesome death of his father on the scaffold. Johann Joseph Abert wrote an opera in 1866 in which Astorga becomes deranged, only being brought back to sanity when his wife plays a few bars of his Stabat Mater setting. The work appeared in many manuscript copies, was published several times and performed with considerable frequency.

Hans Volkmann, Astorga's great champion and biographer at the start of the twentieth century, dated the Stabat Mater, purely (and rather debatably) on stylistic grounds, around 1707. There are equally valid arguments for any date up to around 1730. Whatever, throughout we see Astorga's gift for writing warm melodies, typical of the Neapolitan style of the time. He also captures the melancholy of this most desolate of sacred texts and, especially in the choruses, demonstrates a thorough grasp of counterpoint, but never at the expense of musicality. The work sets ten of the standard six-line verses, connecting two for the third, double-duet movement, but otherwise forming independent movements. In his scoring Astorga takes a variety of combinations of chorus, solo, duet and trio. The mixture of melody with melancholy, sweetness tempered with mild chromaticism, old-fashioned polyphony contrasted with Neapolitan cantilena, a surprisingly Germanic use of motivic development in the bel canto bass solo Fac me plagis vulnerari and the final, quietly operatic chorus which gently directs the listener away from the Virgin's sorrow towards the Carmelite missal's more optimistic 'palm of victory', all show an enormously attractive musical style. Composers and their work often enjoy a bumpy progression through history, but few paths can have been as bizarre as that of Astorga: in the eighteenth century a musical nobleman, during the nineteenth century a folk hero, and in the twentieth-century – oblivion.

from notes by Robert King © 1999

Other albums featuring this work
'Boccherini & Astorga: Stabat mater' (SACDA67108)
Boccherini & Astorga: Stabat mater
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