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09 June 2013

Emulation: VI.2 Sights and Sounds

Concert in the Cathedral of Lucca Marking the Restoration of a Painting

Last evening, in the cathedral of Lucca, an incredibly beautiful concert was given by the relatively newly-formed group VoxAlia. What I found especially notable was the integration of the visual and aural, first by the presentation of the newly restored painting and altar of The Visitation (the painting by Jacopo Ligozzi, 1596), the altar surround a revised version of a design by Giorgio Vasari. Standing by the altar, adjacent to the chapel of the Volto Santo, the new cathedral rector Don Mauro Lucchesi first introduced Archbishop Benvenuto Italo Castellani with some apposite words on the arts and culture in the church; after the bishop spoke, the scholar in charge of the restoration, Dott.ssa Antonia D'Aniello presented a bit of its history; she was followed by a spokesman for the restoration team. Then we moved on to the pews for the concert, under the direction of Livio Picotti. 

The singers entered from the sacristy singing a solemn chant (not in the program), after which they assembled at the altar in a circle to sing Hildegard von Bingen’s O Viridissima Virga, the musical quality highlighted as much aurally as visually by their formation. The program was organized around readings from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Life of Mary, and while the music was mostly Monteverdi and before a discordant note was introduced with Poulenc’s Litanies a la Vierge Noire (why must modern sacred music be so anguished and harsh, even ugly?). Each section of the program was introduced by the readings, which were accompanied by the presentation of a relevant icon painting to the assembled, processed from the altar down the central aisle. Finally, with the inevitable encore (they are de rigueur in Italy) the group moved again, singing as they went, to the altar to conclude the evening.

Maestro Picotti’s credits list him as architect-musician, and his dual background showed in his attention to the spatial and visual dimensions of the music. With Early Music the recovery of something like the original effect of the music is usually confined to the musical, but the spatial and visual accompaniment are no less essential to revivifying music that deserves to be heard as often, and as well-performed, as possible. To imitate the lost original sense of the music one almost must, perforce, emulate—attempt to rival by working to integrate as much information and sense experience as possible.

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