I Faglioni has been around since 1986, when it was founded in Oxford by Robert Hollingworth.
Behind the name, which means "little beans", one suspects lies some abstruse jest – for this superb a capella group combines taking their music seriously with a whimsical joy in performance. Hollingsworth has a quirky, dry wit. At one point the other performers quit the stage, leaving him on his own. "Never liked them anyway" he murmurs – and, the way he tells it, it is unexpected and funny.
Indeed the founder member of the group, counter-tenor Robert Hollingworth is a memorable compere of the evening. With admirable brevity he introduces works from Italy, England and France with understated scholarship, enviable wit and a very British capacity for understatement.
Their first pieces establish their bona fides as superb exponents of a capella artistry –if, after 15 CDs, mostly for the Chandos label, such is needed. Full textured precisely delineated complexity, and rich melodic solo voices weave magic with sixteenth and seventeenth century composers.
Victoria's "Alma Redemoptoris Mater" and Gibbons "O Clap Your Hands" are spell-bindingly beautiful.
Early in the performance they showed, in Janequin's musical evocation of a board game, that they can not only sing, but also present and stage a work.
Three Monteverdi madrigals, and, after the interval, Poulenc's seven songs celebrate their respective genres with joy and precision.
Based on a fragment of a Moliere play (The Imaginary Invalid) I Fagliolini present a world premiere performance of a work by Schultz, commissioned for Musica Viva. This work demands that the performers are superb musicians (check), engaging actors (check) and have the comedic skills to present a work that is mischievous and more than a little raunchy (double check).
Here they introduce a candidate for a spurious medical degree
Et credo quod trovabitis In savanti homine que voici; I recommend for election to this noble order a newly-qualified doctor whose great care and skill mean he can be relied upon…
Sed non Rupertus Murdochio In magnum merdam cascado.
Not to drop us in it with the papers every time we mess up and kill someone….
Quid illi facere.
What would you say if a very rich man asked you to treat him?
Candidate Commendaro patiens privatus
Only as a private patient.
President Et Quasimodo?
And what if that gave him the hump?
Candidate Rectum purgatorio
I'd give him an enema. That'll teach him to ignore the advice of a medical professional.
Second Doctor Et quomodo donare rectum purgatorio?
And how would you administer this enema?
Candidate Magna libros medico consultans et anus adspicero
I would open my medical encyclopaedia and look up "arse".
Needless to say this amalgam of dog Latin, satire of the medical profession, and musical pyrotechnics is greeted with laughter and delight by the audience.
Adrian William's modern Hymn to Awe closes the evening – delicate, complex, and beautiful.
As we left, audience members agreed that rarely have we more enjoyed being in the presence of superlative musicians, who enabled us to share not only their skill, but their love of what they do.