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Antonio LOTTI (1667–1740)
Vesper Psalms
Dixit Dominus
Laudate Pueri [23.46]
Credidi [11.04]
Laudate Dominum [4.01]
Barbara Christina Steude (soprano)
Annekathrin Laabs (soprano)
David Erler (alto)
Tobias Berndt (bass)
Sachisches Vocalensemble
Batzdorfer Hofkapelle/Manfred Jung
rec. Lukas Kirche, Dresden, 22-24 October 2005
CPO 777 180-2 [66.08]

Antonio Lotti is perhaps still best known for his polyphonic sacred music. His music written in the stile antico, drawing on 16th century models, gained currency during the sacred music reform movements of the late 19th and early 20th century. But this is to ignore a considerable body of music written in other styles, notably his stile concertato sacred music which is explored on this new disc.

Lotti was born in Venice, to a musical family. His early teachers, Fuga and Legrenzi, were both employed at St. Mark's Basilica in Venice and Lotti's career was to be inextricably linked to this church. He became a chorister in 1692, going on to become second and then first organist. In this capacity he served for more than thirty years. Much of his sacred music was composed for St. Mark's.
He also composed operas for various Venetian theatres and the popularity that this brought him, gave rise to a court appointment as music-director of the court in Dresden. Lotti spent two years in Dresden, taking with him a company of Italian singers, before returning to his post at St. Mark's in Venice.
Whilst in Dresden his opera Teofane was premièred. But Lotti also assumed responsibility for the performance of sacred music on special occasions in the Catholic court chapel. Lotti raised the standard of music in the chapel and the works performed on this disc come from manuscripts preserved in Dresden. It may be significant, though, that a catalogue of 1765 also lists a cut down version of the Dixit Dominus, perhaps indicating that the full version was too extensive for regular use.
The psalms settings on the disc are all taken from the Vespers service; the principal occasion for grand concerted music at the time. Lotti's pieces are heavily influenced by Venetian models and his settings stick pretty closely to the standard design for these pieces. His concern seems not to have been to create a new and innovative construction, but to decorate well established models. He thus gives each movement its own distinctive instrumental character. This gives the performers a number of opportunities and the Batzdorfer Hofkapelle and the Sachisches Vocalensemble respond admirably.
Lotti opens Dixit Dominus with a lively movement which alternates chorus and soli; though in the Dixit Dominus and Laudate Pueri, Lotti uses his soloists like a semi-chorus as well as giving them individual solos. The following movements are varied: a triple time, dance-like Virgam virtutis; an also solo Tecum Principus with a lovely oboe solo; the grand, choral Juravit Dominus with trumpets, and so it goes on. Lotti carefully constructed this sequence of short movements to give a variety of contrasts of timbre and forces. The solo writing is not really virtuoso, only in De torrente do we get something like an elaborate vocal line, complete with a violin solo.
Interestingly, Lotti's solo quartet consists of two sopranos, alto and bass with no tenor. Barbara Christina Steude, Annekathrin Laabs, David Erler and Tobias Berndt make a beautifully balanced group, blending well in the solo ensemble sections. Berndt has a lovely flexible baritone voice, Erler has a smooth alto and both Steude and Laabs have attractive, focused voices.
In Laudate Pueri Lotti dispenses with his chorus and sets the work for two sopranos and bass solo. But the construction is similar to Dixit Dominus with a variety of short movements mixing style, timbre and vocal/instrumental forces. The result is undeniably attractive and equally well performed as the Dixit Dominus.

The two main works are supported by two smaller ones, a choral setting of Psalm 115 and a short setting of Psalm 116 for soli, chorus and orchestra.
Whilst none of the works on the discs really plumbs the depth of meaning of the texts, they are all charmingly constructed and highly attractive. Just the thing to keep the attention of the Court at Vespers on Sunday evening.

The choir deliver a bright, young sound and make the most of their choral contributions. The singers are beautifully supported by the Batzdorfer Hofkapelle who give a lively, lithe performance and contribute some fine instrumental solos.
These performances are perhaps not quite up to the sophistication of the top-flight early music groups. But that said, this is an attractive programme given with charm, poise and a lively immediacy.
Robert Hugill



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