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GRAMOPHONE (01/2017)
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Reviewer: David Vickers

Alessandro Scarlatti’s Missa defunctorum (1717) has never been recorded before, although it was performed at Stravinsky’s funeral in 1971. A stile antico Requiem Mass in D minor, four-part choral lines are accompanied only by subtle continuo (violone, theorbo and organ). Odhecaton’s all-male choral ensemble is captured on beguiling form in the ideal acoustic of the Oratorio degli Angeli Custodi in Lucca. Falsettists on the soprano part sometimes pinch a few of their highest notes very slightly, but the interweaving voices produce an attractive juxtaposition of density and transparency. Texts are declaimed crisply yet sensitively, melismatic vowels possess compassionate luminosity, and plangent contrapuntal contours illuminate Scarlatti’s harmonic chiaroscuro.

The highlight is the chromatically charged ‘Lacrimosa’, its exquisite dissonances and harmonic twists redolent of Gesualdo. The addition of two concertante violins and use of four solo voices throughout an eloquent Salve regina (probably first published 1697) not only demonstrates Scarlatti’s facility in progressive stile moderno church music but also serves as an entremet before a rapturous unaccompanied Miserere for double choir: sung by the Capella Sistina on Maundy Thursday in 1708 and preserved in the Vatican library, allegedly the papal choir disliked Scarlatti’s complex refrains and thereafter discarded it in favour of the customary Allegri (by then about 60 years old). Odhecaton are on their most scintillating form in a five-voice Magnificat that flows between contrasting solo ensemble verses (including female sopranos), animated choral passages and independent continuo bass-lines that collectively invoke an appealing fusion of Palestrina, Monteverdi and Lotti.

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