Selva morale e spirituale
Balthasar Neumann Choir & Ensemble/Pablo Heras-Casado
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902355
Recordings of Monteverdi’s monumental collection of sacred music, the Selva morale (1641), are not in short supply since we have very commendable (nearly complete) examples from – among others – The Sixteen (on Coro), La Venexiana (Glossa), Junghänel (Harmonia Mundi) and Lasserre (Zig Zag). This offering by the Balthasar Neumann performers comprises only a single disc and so covers fewer than half of the 37 works in the collection. That said, all the main genres are represented – spiritual madrigals, psalms, hymns, Marian antiphons, the Magnificat, Mass movements and solo motets.
On balance the performances are better in the full-textured works. The Magnificat is rousing, the Mass movements solid and sustained, and the spiritual madrigals (especially Voi chi ascolte) sprightly and flexible. These accomplished instrumental players provide an important supporting role, though there are some issues of balance and appropriateness, especially in the works for solo voice. In Ut quaeant laxis the violins are replaced by less pliant cornetti, and in Iste confessor the voice is almost swamped. The words can also be indistinct at times (Dixit Dominus a8). In the Salve Regina a3, where the bass instrument doubles the voice, the former ornaments the line while the latter does not, and it would have been good if the vocal soloists attempted a little more ornamentation – for example in the musical repetitions of the strophic Iste confessor. In my view the benchmark recording for these pieces is the version by Junghänel, which, oddly, is also on the Harmonia Mundi label.