LABELS: Decca L’Oiseau-Lyre
WORKS: Lamentations of Jeremiah; Misereris omnium, Domine; Salve regina; Judica me Deus; Reminiscere miserationum
PERFORMER: Les Talens Lyriques/Christophe Rousset
CATALOGUE NO: 460 020-2
Leonardo Leo was one of the many outstanding composers to emerge from Naples in the early 18th century, when the city was widely regarded as ‘capital of the world’s music’. His sacred works offer a beguiling and often striking musical synthesis – the gravitas of the old-style church polyphony juxtaposed with unashamedly flamboyant displays of vocal virtuosity. Leo was one of the leading lights of the famous Neapolitan opera and he couldn’t resist importing all the drama and showbiz of the operatic world into his devotional music, even when setting texts of the sobriety of the Lamentations or the purity of ‘Salve regina’.
Christophe Rousset has picked a fine team to cope with Leo’s tricky solo parts: outstanding is Sandrine Piau, but there are also admirable contributions from soprano Anne-Lise Sollied and Hilary Summers – a true contralto with a plummy, virile timbre. Rousset judges well the balance between drama and reflective piety, and if the singers are a little too soloistic to be fully at ease in the passages of contrapuntal writing, theirs is perhaps an apt sound for a composer who had sold his soul to the opera in a city dubbed a ‘paradise of devils’. Kate Bolton