Monteverdi: Vespero della Beata Vergine

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COMPOSERS: Monteverdi
LABELS: Archiv
ALBUM TITLE: Monteverdi
WORKS: Vespero della Beata Vergine
PERFORMER: Gabrieli Consort and Players/ Paul McCreesh
CATALOGUE NO: 477 6147
Recordings of Monteverdi’s 1610

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setting of the Vespers fall into three

basic types. The first ignores the

fact that these pieces were printed

three years before Monteverdi ever

went to Venice, and concentrates on

beefed-up concert performances as if

to reflect the grandiloquent acoustic

of St Mark’s. Chief among them

is the 1990 version by John Eliot

Gardiner (Deutsche Grammophon)

– great fun, and musical, but some

of the stylistic and textural detail

is swamped by bombast. Second,

we have those concert versions that

attempt a scale more in keeping

with Monteverdi’s, with one voice

to a part, original instruments and

perhaps with an added chant or

two to indicate its connection with

the church. Philip Pickett’s 1990

recording (L’Oiseau-Lyre) was a

terrific example of this type, stylish

and dancing, but now sadly deleted.

Then there is the most neglected

category – and the one where this

new and impressive version from Paul

McCreesh really makes an impact

– liturgical reconstruction.

McCreesh gives us a compelling

attempt to place Monteverdi’s

settings of the five psalms, the hymn

and the Magnificat appropriately

amongst the plainsongs and

incidental music of a Vespers service.

This is not the first attempt to do

this: the approach owes much to

the pioneering 1984 recording by

Andrew Parrott (now on Virgin

Veritas), which also interpolated

instrumental works by Paolo Cima

and others between the movements,

transposed Lauda Jerusalem and the

seven-voiced Magnificat downwards,

and disrupted the printed order

of movements by placing Duo

Seraphim and the Sonata Sopra Santa

Maria at the end of the work. The

result in both cases is an experience

that ends with movingly quiet

reverence rather than the jubilant

blast of a ‘concert’ Magnificat.

There are, though, some extra

rewards in McCreesh’s version. First,

the instrumental playing is superbly

effective in the big choral pieces.

Second, there is an attempt to take on

board recent scholarship concerning

the speed relations between sections,

especially in the Sonata sopra Santa

Maria. In fact some movements,

such as the Laetatus sum and the

Fecit section of the Magnificat

are thrillingly fast-paced, which creates an immediacy lacking in

Parrott’s version. Third, the singing

is generally good and, in the solos

sung by Charles Daniels, among

the best you are likely to hear in this

repertory. Finally, the performers

sound as if they understand the

Latin words, which results in

some marvellously fresh phrasing

in Nisi Dominus and elsewhere.

The alert rhythms and the good

recording standards (in spite of a

few blemishes and some ‘spongy’

moments in the bass line) put it

ahead of Parrott’s otherwise superb

liturgical construction or Junghänel’s

for Deutsche Harmonia Mundi. The

reconstructions of Vesper services

by Harry Christophers (Hyperion)

and Jordi Savall (Astrée) are less

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convincing liturgically and musically.