Voces8 & AAM @ Milton Court

Hanacpachap cussicuinin
Bernardo Pasquini
Sinfonia from La Sete di Christo
Domenico Zipoli
Beatus Vir, Confitebor tibi, Laudate Dominum, Tantum Ergo, Verso do organo
Alessandro Scarlatti
Dixit Dominus
Diego de Cáseda
Silencio, no chiste al aire
Giovanni Gabrieli
Sonata No.21 for three violins
Magnificat primi toni
Sonato in ecco for three violins
Roque Jacinto de Chavarria
Naranjitay Hisiño

Academy of Ancient Music
Laurence Cummings

Reviewed by: David Truslove

Reviewed: 25 November, 2021
Venue: Milton Court Concert Hall, London

In this collaboration between Voces8 and the Academy of Ancient Music, Domenico Zipoli (born Tuscany in 1688 and died in Argentina in 1726) was the focus for an evening marketed as an exploration of the New World. Directed by Baroque specialist Laurence Cummings, the programme was largely chosen by Jeffrey Skidmore who secured considerable acclaim in 2002 when his choir Ex Cathedra recorded an album of Baroque Latin American music for Hyperion entitled New World Symphonies. This and a follow-up disc earned Zipoli some useful exposure. With the AAM’s upbeat promotion of Zipoli’s “rich and expressive sacred music”, there was a tantalising promise of musical riches, but these were only partially fulfilled.

Skidmore’s concept for this Milton Court performance was a liturgical recreation of a Vespers service comprising a dozen or so sacred pieces including four psalm settings by Zipoli interleaved with works by Palestrina and Scarlatti and a handful of instrumental works each given polished performances under Cummings’s invigorating direction.

This Vespers reconstruction had mixed benefits: on the plus side everything flowed without interruption but, given that much of the repertoire comprised relatively unfamiliar pieces one had to repeatedly refer to the programme booklet in semi darkness to know which composer one was hearing. 

Despite all efforts to promote Zipoli as “one of the most striking European voices in the music of South America”, it became increasingly apparent that his music is not quite the exciting discovery that it might have been. His psalm settings, scored for SAT voices and an ensemble of strings, oboe, theorbo, harp and guitar are not without interest. Yet while the alternation of rhetoric and counterpoint, choral and solo passages drew efficient performances, Zipoli’s assimilation of the Italian lingua franca never quite startled nor, with few exceptions, gave sufficient reason to question why his name remains largely unknown. That said I enjoyed the word painting in Beatus Vir, the florid writing within Confitebor tibi and the addition of tambour and recorders in the celebratory Laudate Dominum. Solo contributions, whilst uneven, were welcome in these text-laden settings.

Unsurprisingly, Zipoli’s music was overshadowed by his Italian forebears and nowhere better demonstrated than an impeccably sung double-choir setting of Palestrina’s Magnificat intriguingly supported by organ and bassoon. Everything here seemed to cohere with well-supported sonorities and sympathetically sculpted phrasing. Scarlatti’s Dixit Dominus fared well, with secure solo passages and crisply delivered strings animating muscular rhythms. By contrast, the gentle sweep of Diego de Cáseda’s Christmas Lullaby was sung with much affection and accompanied most eloquently by two guitars and harp – a little gem. But it was only with the closing traditional song by Bolivian-born Roque Jacinto de Chavarria when the emotional temperature soared, and it was well-worth waiting to see these rather too correct musicians finally letting their hair down.

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