Collection: Vespro della beata virgine

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Carissimi,Frescobaldi & Palestrina,Mazzocchi
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Choral works by Mazzocchi, Carissimi, Frescobaldi & Palestrina
PERFORMER: Cantus Cölln; Concerto Palatino/Konrad Junghänel
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 902001

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The sacred music of mid-17th-century Rome was part of the Eternal City’s drive to claim unmatched achievements in the arts. The results of this initiative in art or architecture are familiar to most (who hasn’t heard of Bernini?), but its music lurks in the shadows (Mazzocchi, anyone?). 

This disc opens a trove of unrecorded masterpieces, focusing on the Marian Vespers. These combined cutting-edge practices – florid monody, free declamation, concerted instruments – with liturgical tradition, creating a tapestry of sumptuous colours and expressive affects.

Sensuality, therefore, is basic to this sound world – but unfortunately mostly absent here. Apart from some solo sections, this is a curiously bloodless reading of such robust music. The immediacy with which its dialogue can appeal, and the stark power of its contrasting textures, remain under wraps. The strengths these performances have are in their clear paragraphing and articulation, and in Konrad Junghänel’s highlighting of details.

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Nor is it the directorship, but rather the sound reproduction, which is responsible for obscuring the instruments’ timbres, particularly the brilliance of the cornets. We can only hope that this bumpy excursion will stimulate future recordings of this wonderful repertoire. Berta Joncus