During the Christmastime of 1984 BBC’s Radio 3 produced a wonderful set of broadcasts with the title “Octave of the Nativity”: ten liturgical reconstructions of the Masses for that season, with introductions by Cormac Rigby. The Masses reconstructed dated from early plainsong to the most complex high renaissance polyphony and included choirs from the continent. The high Mass from St Peter’s Rome, however, did not feature the Sistine Chapel choir. Upon enquiry I found the reason why that choir wasn’t asked to sing was that it was not considered of “recordable quality”. The BBC was correct. I still have in my possession a vinyl record of the Vatican choir dating from the 1960’s and it sounds absolutely terrible. Much of the reason is that it sings like a collection of operatic soloists rather than a homogeneous entity and the respect due to period performance practises are absolutely nil. I wonder if it has since improved.
In the 1970’s British choirs brought themselves up-to-date with genuine performance practise – for example, reducing formerly mammoth numbers in Handel’s Messiah – and spawned a number of smaller vocal groups. I particularly enjoyed the Consort of Music under Anthony Rooley and Harry Cristophers’ the Sixteen.
It would have seemed on the borders of impossibility to imagine that, in this current age and place, in one of the remotest valleys of Central Italy, I would have been able to hear a local vocal group that could compete successfully with the stratospheric standards of the greatest English choirs.
In the immaculate setting of the Pieve di Loppia (for more on this marvellous building do see my post on it at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2014/04/22/the-loppia-lo) the “gruppo vocale Gli Stereotipi” (web site at http://www.stereo-tipi.it/Stereo_Tipi_Gruppo_Vocale/Home.html) performed a recital of music ranging from the strictest renaissance a Capella, through baroque pieces, visiting the English shores with Purcell, the German heartland with Rheinberger and contemporary America with Whiteacre to finish up in South Africa.
The group consists of Lia Salotti, Serena Salotti, Valentina Simonelli, Giulia Manfredini, Andrea Salvoni, Morando Bertoncini, Martino Biondi, Gioele Tomei.
I have been involved in music making with several of these members: in particular, Lia Salotti who runs the Civic School of Music at Borgo di Mozzano (Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Scuola-Civica-di-Musica-MSalotti-di-Borgo-a-Mozzano/283857698298922) who got us up to scratch for the memorable concert we gave at the convent of San Francesco at Borgo for Christmas 2012.
I was stunned again at Loppia by the near-perfection of the Stereotipi’s performances. Period stylistic practises were fully adhered to, difficult enharmonic changes were steered through with aplomb, and the togetherness of the voices was extraordinarily pleasing.
Moreover, the introduction of a theme to the recital “From Dawn to Dawn” was genial. Each piece described the journey from dawn to noon to evening and night, waking up the following morning in a resurrection of life itself. The Stereotipi realise that every recital can be even more effective if it has a coordinating theme to lift it into almost philosophical as well as musical heavens.
Here is their rendition of Rheinberger’s “Abendlied”
Several members of the group have visited and studied in the UK and it showed. In particular, I noted the beneficial influence of such groups as the Cambridge Singers. Here are the Stereotipi in one of their star items, Lotti’s “Miserere”:
I am so glad that one of the Stereotipi’s members, Andrea Salvoni, is our choirmaster with our San Pietro and Paolo di Ghivizzano choir. He knows what he wants from us because he has achieved it singing with the Stereotipi, one of the finest “gruppi vocali” I have heard in Italy so far.
Hearing the high standards of the “Stereotipi” (which title I find a playful use of the word since they are quite the opposite of stereotypes!) I do not feel that brits need suffer from culture shock when they listen to these singers upon return to Italy from Evensong in one of the great English cathedrals. More and more choirs and vocal groups in Italy are approaching “recordable quality”, thanks to the much higher standards of musical training, and this country should be proud of that. Only recently I received a comment about our own choir from stern critic, Francesco Cipriano, the editor of LuccaMusica music events magazine, where he affirms “some choirs from the remotest villages in our mountains can stand comparison with and even in some cases surpass many northern choirs”.
It’s true that DOC music should be played or sung to best effect by DOC musicians. But if Italy, with Colombini, can produce a very valid rendition of Elgar or Vaughan-Williams then the Stereotipi can produce an effective performance of a Purcell anthem too.
It remains obvious, however, that when it comes to their own music Italian musicians have now got the idiom very much more fluently under their belt than musicians from other countries. I expect Vivaldi today to be played by the likes of Fabio Biondi and certainly I’ll be glad to hear more Monteverdi and other Italian madrigalists from the excellent “Gli Stereotipi.”
Do look out for their next recital (consult their web site) and help to ensure the venue gets packed as it deserves to be (and shamefully wasn’t at Loppia, probably because of poor publicity) when these guys and dolls are performing!