Spectrum of authenticity
Every year, the Santa Fe Pro Musica Baroque Ensemble performs music from the 17th and 18th centuries at Loretto Chapel in the run up to Easter. This installment was on the short side but proved fully nourishing nonetheless. It began with a winning performance of a G-major Flute Concerto of unknown Italian parentage but, from the sound of it, sired in the 1730s. At some point, it was ascribed to Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, who spent the most notable years of his very short career attached to musical establishments in Naples. After his death at the age of 26, his biography became highly romanticized, and the attendant fame (or notoriety) made him a magnet for misattribution of works by more obscure composers. Of the 148 compositions noted in the “complete edition of Pergolesi’s works” published from 1939 to 1942, only 30 are considered genuine today. He wrote almost nothing apart from vocal music. The current edition of The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians admits only five instrumental compositions as authentic and consigns 57 other instrumental pieces circulated under his name to the progressively more leery categories of “doubtful,” “extremely doubtful,” and “spurious.” This flute concerto falls into the middle classification of unlikelihood — “extremely doubtful” — but that in no way lessens its charm, especially when interpreted as adeptly as Carol Redman did here. Her Baroque flute blended warmly into the supporting ensemble of strings plus organ continuo. She endowed the outer movements with amiable sprightliness (her gusto even deflecting attention from some lapses in the strings in the finale), and she imbued the rather Vivaldian middle movement with an
affettuoso character emblematic of the final years of the Baroque. Henry Purcell’s Pavan and Chacony in G minor is perhaps the earliest ensemble work by that seminal English composer, probably written in 1678, just after he was appointed composer for the royal violin ensemble. Violinists Stephen Redfield and Karen Clarke and violist Gail Robertson intertwined in pungent mournfulness during the pavan and brought considerable range of personality to the variations traced above the repeated (and sometimes elongated) bass pattern.
Certifiable Pergolesi occupied the entire second half of the concert: his well-known Stabat Mater for two solo voices, strings, and continuo, one of the last pieces he completed, in the early months of 1736, when he was dying of (one early biographer said) “a severe attack of pleurisy that baffled the efforts of all the medical men to save him.” This agreeable work comprises 12 short movements. Some incorporate depictive tone painting, such as the “hammering” motif of the aria “Fac, ut portem Christi mortem,” which has to do with bearing Christ’s wounds. More often, however, Pergolesi’s setting of this long poem about the sorrowful mother weeping before the cross adheres to a generalized but pleasant operatic style of the type the radio announcer DeKoven used to describe ecstatically as “barococo.” Soprano Kathryn Mueller and mezzo-soprano Deborah Domanski both proved well suited to the style, though in different ways. Mueller, clear of timbre and often eschewing vibrato, conveyed purity and innocence; she proved especially effecting in her aria “Vidit suum.” Domanski possesses a richer instrument but, like Mueller, negotiated the work’s coloratura demands with a real spring in her step, most charmingly in the aria “Quae moerebat,” the music of which seems to have nothing to do with the grim subject.