Skip to main content

 Recording of the Week  Choral Music by Antonio Lotti from the Syred Consort

If there's a prime example of the classical "one-hit wonder", it's surely Antonio Lotti. If classical fans have heard any of his music, it would most likely be the sumptuous Crucifixus, but how many of us could name a second work by him? I'll admit that until I came across this week's disc from the Syred Consort, I certainly couldn't.

Ben Palmer
Ben Palmer

And this, of course, is precisely the situation that conductor Ben Palmer wants to change. He's based this album around the world premiere recording of the Mass from which the Crucifixus is taken, together with several other large-scale sacred works by Lotti – a Dixit Dominus, a Miserere and a standalone Credo – in a bid to rehabilitate the composer's reputation.

The immediate impression is of a rather Vivaldian style – not surprisingly, as the two were almost exact contemporaries. Yet at the same time the influence of Lotti's predecessor at San Marco – one Claudio Monteverdi – is clearly audible. The Dixit opens with the same monumental wall of sound that Monteverdi uses in his Vespers, setting the majestic tone for the disc. Just like the Vespers, the works being performed here are very much the "big" end of Lotti's output. All were written for major services where money was no object, so they show him at his most extravagant and inventive.

The Missa Sancti Christophori is, of course, the main feature of the disc. Strictly speaking, though, it doesn't actually exist! Lotti's practice was to write individual movements rather than full Mass settings, and then to mix and match them as practicalities required. His pupil Zelenka, working under a slightly different system in Prague, compiled various of Lotti's sections together into Masses and named them – and, in this case, created the Benedictus and Agnus Dei by pastiche from the preceding movements. It gives the whole a pleasing (if not entirely authentic!) stylistic unity.

Just as in the earlier works, Lotti uses solo sections to break up the choral texture; the tenor-bass duet at Domine Deus in the Gloria, while short, is an impressive little showpiece that sees Ruairi Bowen and Ben McKee compete with each other to see who has the most agile passagework. The Gloria's closing section once again put me in mind of Vivaldi – a nimble fugue culminating in a long pedal and an immensely satisfying resolution.

Undeniably, the Crucifixus is the movement I was subconsciously waiting for, and it really does make much more sense in its proper context, coming after a subdued Et incarnatus in B flat major. The tempo is faster than I suspect most listeners will be expecting – most likely due to the opportunities for self-indulgence afforded by performing it in isolation as an a cappella concert piece – but it really works, and hearing it as it was intended to be performed casts it in a totally different light. Lotti would have expected it to be not only preceded by the Et incarnatus but also followed by his exuberant Et resurrexit, and it's only by restoring these that its beauty can be properly understood and appreciated.

Lotti's reputation as a master of expressive dissonance has naturally hitherto rested almost solely on the Crucifixus – but it turns out that it's entirely deserved. The other movements and works reinforce the idea of a man who knew the power of a well-placed suspension – a particularly imposing one for the tenors' and basses' "judicare vivos et mortuos" is just one instance of what seems to be a hallmark of his approach to word-painting.

This is clearly a labour of love for Palmer and his musicians – inspired by Ben Byram-Wigfield's extensive musicological research into Lotti he's taken on the duty of evangelising the findings to the classical public. I, for one, have certainly been won over – the superb musicianship on display shows Lotti in the best possible light, and I now feel I should get to know his music more. I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for future instalments from the Syreds – Palmer has hinted that some of Lotti's even more lavish Vesper Psalm settings might be on the way in the future.

Lotti: Crucifixus

The Syred Consort & Orchestra of St Paul’s, Ben Palmer

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC