This near sell-out concert at the Barbican was intended as a purely vocal programme, ranging from 1710 to 1736 and featuring two female vocalists accompanied by baroque specialists The English Concert. Expertly led from the organ by Harry Bicket, the orchestra played with spirit and their rendering of Handel's Concerto Grosso Op. 6 in place of the programmed Salve Regina by Porpora, was a pleasant interlude (although the well known rather dry acoustic of the concert hall did little to help) but the main acts were the vocal works of Vivaldi and Pergolesi.

Leif Ove Andsnes, credit Lorenzo Agius
Leif Ove Andsnes, credit Lorenzo Agius

We are so used to hearing Vivaldi's exquisite Nisi Dominus sung by a counter-tenor these days, that it is something of a treat to hear the rich tones of a contralto; Sara Mingardo sang with poise and expression and if, at times, she seemed a little overwhelmed by the orchestra, that may well have more to do with the Barbican's aforementioned acoustics and my being in the cheap seats rather than a lack of sound volume or projection. It was, however, in the quieter sections such as the Vanum est nobis where the full flavour of her warm, elegant voice came into its own.

Enjoyable as the Vivaldi was, it was put into the shade by the Stabat Mater. This 300th anniversary year of Pergolesi's birth has seen numerous performances of his masterpiece, and the one we heard at the Barbican on Saturday must surely stand up there with the best of them. If the counter-tenor vs. contralto argument for the Nisi Dominus was left open, Ms Mingardo certainly threw down the contralto gauntlet for the Pergolesi with this performance. Susan Gritton stepped in at the last minute for an indisposed Anna Caterina Antonacci but, momentary disappointment aside, this was no second-best billing. In the solo movements, both sang with all possible understanding, whilst in their duets the two voices complemented each other beautifully in terms of vocal colour. Furthermore, they were particularly well balanced, each coming to fore as required, with the main line being passed effortlessly between them - it was as though they had sung together for years and gave as moving a rendition as one could wish for.