The reputation of 18th-century Italian composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi today rests almost entirely on one work: his Stabat Mater. It’s a strange fate for a composer once celebrated for his (very) secular comic operas. But of all sacred texts the Stabat Mater is perhaps the most dramatic – a vivid meditation on the Virgin Mary’s suffering as she stands at the foot of the cross – and Pergolesi the opera composer responds with every theatrical instinct. The result is a cantata for soprano and alto soloists who, by a musical sleight of hand, both narrate and enact this poignant scene. This recording from conductor Diego Fasolis and soloists Julia Lezhneva (soprano) and Philippe Jaroussky (countertenor) is defiantly and heartbreakingly direct, rescuing the work from the po-faced, overworked piety it has too often drifted into. This isn’t opera-lite, but it takes the genre’s expressive immediacy and pairs it with an unaffected style of singing that cuts to the tragic core of this music. Jaroussky’s voice sits higher than most countertenors, and his silvered purity set against Lezhneva’s darker soprano creates an unusual textural friction. Voice bleeds into voice almost interchangeably, with Jaroussky adding an additional bloom and urgency to Lezhneva’s straighter delivery. Diego Fasolis keeps speeds brisk and string textures percussively crisp, energising sections like the final ‘Amen’ so as to throw the stillness of others (‘Quando corpus’) into even starker chiaroscuro relief. The disc also resurrects two comparative rarities – Pergolesi’s Laudate Pueri and Confitebor tibi Domine. Thicker and more florid in their choral textures, both are excellently delivered, though neither comes close to the extraordinary intensity of the Stabat Mater.