Monteverdi: Vespro della Beata Vergine (1610)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Monteverdi
LABELS: DG Archiv
ALBUM TITLE: Monteverdi
WORKS: Vespro della Beata Vergine (1610)
PERFORMER: Soloists; Monteverdi Choir, London Oratory Junior Choir, His Majesties Sagbutts & Cornetts, English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner (St Mark’s, Venice, 1989)
CATALOGUE NO: 073 035-9
The production on this DVD dates from 1989, in the days when BBC TV and PolyGram still felt it worth pushing the boat out to take this masterpiece to the place for which Monteverdi might well have conceived it, St Mark’s Basilica in Venice. I’ve had the CDs ever since, but they’ve never been favourites. No faulting Gardiner’s control of this musical hydra, live, in a difficult location, though it’s surprising he didn’t better tailor his nippier tempi to the building’s reverberant caverns. As usual, the Monteverdi Choir’s the star but, among the soloists, the stylish but steely Nigel Robson and the plain Marinella Pennicchi disappoint. And, for all the grandeur and excitement, I missed the clarity which Andrew Parrott’s smaller forces (on a Virgin CD) bring to Monteverdi’s musical geometry.

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The pictures are expertly shot and edited, and offer views of normally inaccessible mosaics. But on my player the colours were drab and the chip struggled to generate realistic movement in the Byzantine gloom; a different deck showed a small improvement, though the acoustic is still a problem. Gardiner’s pep talk is good; originally it led straight into the Vespers, but now makes less sense, stuck at the end as a ‘bonus’. And only at the end do you realise there was an audience all along. Nick Morgan