Monteverdi

COMPOSERS: Monteverdi
LABELS: Signum
ALBUM TITLE: Vespro della Beata Vergine
PERFORMER: Rodolfus Choir; Southern Sinfonia; English Cornet and Sackbut Ensemble/Ralph Allwood
CATALOGUE NO: SIGCD 109
Enthusiasm for Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers shows no signs of abating. We had versions from Alessandrini in 2004 (Naïve), Robert King (Hyperion) and McCreesh (Archiv) in 2006, and now two further releases from Jordi Savall and Ralph Allwood with his young English choir. Of all of these, the only ones attempting a liturgical presentation within a Vespers service are those by McCreesh and Savall. Savall’s version is, in fact, a reissue in hybrid SACD format of his 1988 recording. This had the advantage of having been performed in the church of Santa Barbara in Mantua, one of the possible venues of the work’s first performance. The SACD sound gives a vivid sense of sitting in a particular place in the church throughout, which means that, while the soloists come across clearly, some of the choral pieces are a little distant. This all adds to the live ambience (especially in the musical echoes of ‘Audi coelum’), which is in marked contrast to the rather dead ambience of the music’s pacing. In ‘Laetatus sum’ almost every phrase has a ritardando and only when the stately progress blossoms into monumentality (in the great seven-voiced Magnificat) does the music become enriched. Liturgically things are a little confusing, with one set of liner notes (by Fabbri) arguing that the motets replace the antiphons, and another (Besutti) saying that chants antiphons should be added: in the end we get both chants and motets, but not a full service. McCreesh (reviewed November 2006) does all this so much better, including the instrumental sections, though these items are amongst the few that come alive in the Savall recording. The Rodolfus Choir is made up of students under 25 years of age from the Eton Choral Courses. This non-liturgical performance is terrifically fresh, especially in ‘Dixit Dominus’, ‘Lauda Jerusalem’ and the cross-rhythms of the Sonata ‘Sopra Sancta Maria’. One or two of the solo voices are a bit raw, but the overall effect is one of great spirit and originality. The instrumentalists acquit themselves well and sometimes (in the Sonata for example) they approach panache. The recorded sound is nice, though the choir sounds a little distant and there are some mushy harmonies in ‘Ave maris stella’. For a more consistent version of a non-liturgical performance try the authentically smaller forces of The Scholars Baroque Ensemble.

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Anthony Pryer