In 1610, strapped for cash and seeking new employment, Monteverdi compiled a portfolio of his sacred vocal works and dedicated it to Pope Paul V. If, as seems likely, he was hoping for a church appointment, his ploy failed, which makes the Vespro della Beata Vergine probably the most famous unsuccessful job application in history.
We know very little about Monteverdi’s plans for performing this music and its revolutionary mixture of ‘old style’ contrapuntal polyphony and ‘new style’ vocal expressiveness is too idiosyncratic to offer many clues. Recent recordings have taken very different approaches. John Eliot Gardiner (Archiv) treats the Vespers as a dramatic concert work, whereas Andrew Parrott (EMI) favours a strictly liturgical reading, which entails reordering the pieces and adding both plainchant antiphons and other extraneous material. René Jacobs takes a middle course here, including antiphons but otherwise leaving Monteverdi’s music intact.
He also eschews Parrott’s intimate chamber style, preferring a richer sound palette to convey the Vespers’ breadth of passion. Jacobs has assembled a fine team of solo vocalists and he deploys his instrumentalists astutely, with coruscating cornetts and majestic organ highlighting the music’s rapturous splendour. One complaint: the booklet only lists performers collectively, not track by track. Graham Lock