In review: Lawrence Zazzo at Wigmore Hall Photo: Justin Hyer.

In review: Lawrence Zazzo at Wigmore Hall

John Beckett

The seconda pratica was the radically modern music of the early 1600’s. With an intensely heavy emphasis on text, music coming from this genre by d’India, Carissimi, and Caccini can be as moving as listening to a poem recited, or hearing a beautiful play.

But on Monday’s Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert at Wigmore Hall, Lawrence Zazzo seemed to almost be poking fun at the seconda pratica. As virtuosic lines and rapid ornaments came out of his mouth, his face was grimacing at the audience - with raised eyebrows and upturned lips he looked at us as if we were supposed to be laughing during the laments of Caccini. In a cartoonish and self-indulgent interpretation, Zazzo managed to make the program more about himself as a singer than about the touching music, the compelling stories, or the dramatic text.

The composer Barbara Strozzi was a true standout in her time period: along with Francesca Caccini, these two women dared to write and perform their own music in a climate overwhelmingly dominated by men. “L’Eraclito amoroso” is a piece where a woman sings about the infidelity of her lover. We are constantly looking for more representation of women composers, which is why we were so upset to see Zazzo mocking Strozzi’s music and Strozzi herself. Seated behind a music stand, he made faces that we took to be “imitating a woman,” like an exaggerated oil painting of a “feminine” gesture or sigh. We were happier when his face was buried in the stand.

Silas Wollston played harpsichord and organ with a sense of rhythmic flow and just enough articulation to make the instrument breathe beautifully in Wigmore Hall. Wollston definitely captured the spirit of this music during Frescobaldi’s solo organ piece Toccata e Ricercare cromatico. It was a shame that the audience became so distracted by Zazzo, who, while sitting in front of the organ, could not sit still or keep a straight face even for a minute.

The biggest range of color and dynamic came from the archlute of Daniele Caminiti - an instrument not particularly known for displaying a large array of anything but plucking. Caminiti does what we love most about good continuo players - he shapes the ensemble around him, driving the music by making smart and effective choices about voicing and shape. While playing Piccinini’s solo Toccata XIII, we heard more than a comprehensive storyline as his playing sparkled through the hall.

The continuo team, made up of Caminiti, Wollston, and gamba player Jonathan Rees, were models of effective and classy performing. It is so satisfying to watch a group of players who seem to share a brain - without a conductor or obvious large breaths they played like cogs in a finely tuned machine.

There are a multitude of ways to get people to appreciate a four hundred year old art form. We’ve seen great interpreters of Monteverdi and Cavalli who make us forget that they are singing as they tell powerful stories with their voices, and the music becomes a tool to serve the text and those stories. If Zazzo were to use his impressive voice to do that he would be at the forefront of these performers.

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