Mention Antonio Lotti and most people will think of the Crucifixus, and little if anything else. A Venetian contemporary of Vivaldi, his association with St Mark’s lasted all of his working life, nearly 60 years, until his death in 1740. In addition, his music was performed and published all over Europe, arousing the enthusiasm of no less a patron than the Emperor Leopold I. As Colin Timms notes in his accompanying essay, Leopold heard the piece that gives this recording its name, and asked that more of Lotti’s music be sent to him. The compositions recorded here (including La vita caduca) were Lotti’s response to the emperor’s request. That they are best described as madrigals may come as a surprise; but though the madrigal’s heyday was by then long gone, it did enjoy a revival at the turn of the eighteenth century. Certainly these pieces meet the genre’s basic definition, being mainly through-composed and scored for no more than a handful of voices and continuo. What fascinates here is the music’s hybrid nature and its flexibility. The texture is largely imitative, with each text-line having its own melodic point; but alongside this convention are Lotti’s very contemporary-sounding harmonic touches. Interestingly, these attracted the disapproval of at least one theorist, exactly as had Monteverdi’s a century before. Today, they are a source of unexpected delight, especially in this vivacious and spirited interpretation.
There should no longer be any need to praise the confidence with which Italian ensembles have taken hold of their native repertory – and Il Complesso Barocco is not the least of them (its director, Alan Curtis, being the only foreigner among them). This is music of high vocal virtuosity, requiring the utmost agility in execution and deftness of characterization: on that count the ensemble can hardly be faulted, though admittedly the higher voices are perhaps slightly less sure-footed in their extreme registers. The continuo, spearheaded by Curtis himself, is equally natural and unfussy (though in the more richly scored pieces, as in La vita caduca, the organ may be a touch too obtrusive).
As the many qualifiers indicate, I advance these reservations with the utmost caution: there can be few better opportunities to broaden one’s acquaintance with Lotti.'