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Lamentazione - Scarlatti, Leo, Legrenzi, Lotti, Caldara / Agnew, Les Arts Florissants

Les Arts Florissants / Agnew,Paul
Release Date: 10/11/2011 
Label:  Virgin Classics   Catalog #: 70907   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Alessandro ScarlattiAntonio LottiGiovanni LegrenziAntonio Caldara,   ... 
Conductor:  Paul Agnew
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Les Arts Florissants
Number of Discs: 1 
Low Stock: Currently 3 or fewer in stock. Usually ships in 24 hours, unless stock becomes depleted.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

LAMENTAZIONE Paul Agnew, cond; Les Arts Florissants (voices, period instruments) VIRGIN 50999 0709072 (56:20 Text and Translation)

D. SCARLATTI Stabat Mater. LOTTI Crucifixus à 10. Crucifixus à 8. LEGRENZI Quam amarum est, Maria. CALDARA Crucifixus Read more à 16. LEO Miserere

The purpose of this disc seems to be to focus on the Baroque lament, rather than, as the title suggests, the more common Lamentation settings of the prophet Jeremiah, which were also legion during this period. That being said, it brings together a group of composers who were active around 1700 or so in both Rome and Venice, sites of a more strict adherence to the stile antico , wherein vocal counterpoint with minimal or no accompaniment was the rule. Some often startling sounds come forth from Les Arts Florissants, William Christie’s group led here by Paul Agnew. The works are all rather ethereal, with cascading imitative entrances, kaleidoscopic textures, and grandiose settings.

Domenico Scarlatti’s Stabat Mater for a cappella choir and continuo is of course a well-known and often-recorded work, appearing on labels such as Naïve, Accent, Helios (Hyperion), EMI, and Ricercar among others with choruses ranging from the King’s College to period ensembles. In this one, however, the pure sound and clear counterpoint of this work, written during Scarlatti’s early years at the Capella Giulia in Rome about 1715 or so, weave sinuously about creating a veritable tapestry of sound that is clear, nicely textured, and at times quite emotional. When he contrasts this with homophonic portions, such as the “Inflammatus,” the effect is brilliant. The two Crucifixus Mass insertions by Antonio Lotti, one for eight voices and the second for 10, are equally transparent, with the often pungent dissonances clearly delineated. This contrasts with the grandeur of Antonio Caldara’s huge 16-voice setting, where the voices, divided into four choirs, provide a quadraphonic effect, very Venetian in style. Their teacher, Giovanni Legrenzi (1626–90), is much more intimate, with a Marian motet sung by two sopranos drawn from the choir and accompanied by a soft lute continuo. Here we are in the world of Giulio Caccini or Francesco Cavalli, immersed in a mellifluous operatic style, with the voices contrasting and yet uniting in cascading thirds. I am especially impressed by the contrast of sopranos Hannah Morrison and Maud Gnidzaz, the latter of whom has a nice, rich, perhaps even slightly darker texture that adds to the interpretation of the music. Leonardo Leo’s Miserere , on the other hand, is firmly planted in the Neapolitan style of the middle of the 18th century, with considerable block homophony and shifting harmonies. His use of sections of chant sung by various combinations of voices makes this a powerful work, demonstrating that the older polyphonic style was not yet completely anachronistic.

This is, in short, a wonderful disc that offers a larger-scale vocal experience for the listener. Here is the special sound of music that is of pure tone and sensitive interpretation and which transports one into the sacred world of the Baroque church composer, showing that, with the exception of the intimate Legrenzi piece, the older style was still vibrant. Paul Agnew keeps his ensemble moving along, allowing for the various textures to develop as the music requires and producing a brilliant series of works that, apart from the Scarlatti and the two Lotti pieces, are rare finds. Anyone interested in choral music of the Baroque will want to have this disc.

FANFARE: Bertil van Boer


One of my favourite concert experiences this year was hearing Sir Simon Rattle conducting the Berlin Radio Choir at the Berlin Philharmonie in a spellbinding performance of Antonio Lotti’s Crucifixus and Thomas Tallis’s forty-part Spem in alium. The two sacred motets for unaccompanied choir preceded Rattle’s Mahler 8 with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, eight soloists, Berlin Radio Choir, MDR Radio Choir Leipzig and children’s choir. The thinking behind this unusual programme was described in the notes as “ suggestive programme juxtapositions building time-bridges to the past from the future.” The explanation might have been quite a mouthful, if rather pretentious, but the concept worked magnificently. My point is that the audience response demonstrated to me that early sacred music is for everyone not just for the specialist listener. It will be worth looking out to see if Sir Simon releases a CD of his Berlin performances of Lotti and Tallis. It was good to hear again Lotti’s eight-part Crucifixus and also his ten-part setting of the Crucifixus.

Specialising in performing early music the vocal and instrumental ensemble Les Arts Florissants was founded in 1979 by conductor William Christie and is resident at the Théâtre de Caen in France. Under the direction of Paul Agnew Les Arts Florissants recorded these unaccompanied sacred scores of the Italian baroque at a live concert in September 2010 as part of the Ambronay Festival at the 9th century Benedictine Abbey in the village of Ambronay in eastern France.

The first and longest work on this disc is the Stabat Mater for ten voices from Neapolitan composer Domenico Scarlatti. Although Scarlatti spent many years working in the Portuguese and Spanish courts his best known score is probably the Stabat Mater a product of his Roman period. In this account Scarlatti’s somewhat serious mood feels highly contemplative rather than dramatic allowing a near constant purity of sound. For those wanting a more dramatic reading I cannot recommend highly enough the 1973 performance by the Schütz Choir of London under Roger Norrington on Decca 443 868-2. Norrington’s use of more extreme dynamics is both thrilling and reverent. Leonardo Leo was also Neapolitan by birth. His substantial Miserere a due cori dated 1739 looks back to Renaissance polyphony alternating Gregorian chant with organ accompaniment between the choruses. Often overshadowed by more illustrious contemporaries Leo’s compositions do not get the credit that his quality deserves.

I recall first encountering the sacred music of Venetian composer Antonio Lotti and finding it a revelation. Lotti’s setting of the Crucifixus is in my view a true masterwork. It seems that it was taken from the Credo in F of his Missa Sancti Christophori. Also present is Lotti’s very fine Crucifixus for ten voices. Born near Bergamo Giovanni Legrenzi was active in Venice from 1670 where he obtained several appointments. Legrenzi gained a high reputation as a teacher. Evidently his pupils included Caldara, Lotti and Vivaldi. Published in 1655 Legrenzi’s Quam amarum est, Maria is a delightful motet scored for two sopranos and basso continuo. It is sung here by Hannah Morrison and Maud Gnidzaz. In this setting the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene lament the death of Jesus. Yet another Venetian, Antonio Caldara is represented by his setting of the Crucifixus for sixteen voices. Its structure is bolstered by a sympathetic basso continuo.

If I could use only two words to sum up these live performances of sacred music titled Lamentazione the words would be ‘purity’ and ‘reverence’. Les Arts Florissants under Paul Agnew demonstrate a rare finesse in scrupulously prepared performances of smooth vocal sonorities and impeccable unity. In his endeavour to achieve pin-point precision director Paul Agnew has probably sacrificed a degree of character. Providing vividly clear sound the Benedictine Abbey at Ambronay proves to be a marvellous recording venue that Agnew described in the notes as a “ sumptuous acoustic”. Throughout the recording I didn’t detect any audience noise. I wouldn’t have known this was a live recording if it hadn’t been stated in the notes.

-- Michael Cookson, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

Stabat mater by Alessandro Scarlatti
Conductor:  Paul Agnew
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Les Arts Florissants
Period: Baroque 
Written: Italy 
Crucifixus a 10 by Antonio Lotti
Conductor:  Paul Agnew
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Les Arts Florissants
Period: Baroque 
Written: Italy 
Quam amarum est Maria by Giovanni Legrenzi
Conductor:  Paul Agnew
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Les Arts Florissants
Crucifixus by Antonio Caldara
Conductor:  Paul Agnew
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Les Arts Florissants
Period: Baroque 
Miserere Mei Deus by Leonardo Leo
Conductor:  Paul Agnew
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Les Arts Florissants
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1739; Italy 
Crucifixus a 8 by Antonio Lotti
Conductor:  Paul Agnew
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Les Arts Florissants
Period: Baroque 
Written: Italy 

Sound Samples

Stabat Mater
Crucifixus (à 10 voix)
Quam Amrum est Maria
Crucifixus (à 16 voix)
Miserere (à 8 voix)
Crucifixus (à 8 voix)

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