Leo: Sacred vocal music

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

LABELS: ASV Gaudeamus
WORKS: Sacred vocal music
PERFORMER: Angharad Gruffydd Jones (soprano); Gonville & Caius College Choir, Cambridge/Geoffrey Webber; Timothy Uglow, Gavin Roberts (organ)
Leonardo Leo lived and worked in Naples. Like fellow Neapolitans, Pergolesi, Vinci and Porpora, Leo was active both in the sphere of opera and, to a lesser extent, sacred music. This programme, varied and thoughtfully assembled, provides us with some idea of Leo’s skill and of his wide stylistic range as a composer for the church. The main work is a setting of the Miserere which was greatly admired, both in Leo’s lifetime and later by Verdi, Wagner and others, too. It is written for double choir, heard both separately, in opposition, and together. Leo’s rigorous contrapuntal strength is almost ever present and his technique rewardingly affective. If the style seems archaic in the choral sections this is far from so in some of the solos, and in the other substantial piece of the programme, the motet Praebe Virgo. Leo, like Durante, could be forward- as well as backward-looking and it is the Rococo airiness of Leo’s concertos and operas which gain the upper hand in the motet, sung with agility by Angharad Gruffydd Jones. With a view to variety of texture and of colour the director, Geoffrey Webber, has inserted fine organ solos by Leo’s contemporary Zipoli, and this is an effective touch. The diction and corporate tone of the men’s and women’s voices of the Choir of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, is bright, refined, intimate and, where expressively called for, fragile. Nicholas Anderson