Monteverdi: Messa a 4 da capella; Magnificat II a 6 voci

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COMPOSERS: Monteverdi
LABELS: Symphonia
WORKS: Messa a 4 da capella; Magnificat II a 6 voci
PERFORMER: La Stagione Armonica, Schola Gregoriana/Sergio Balestracci
In recent years, Italy has produced a plethora of outstanding small-scale vocal ensembles specialising in early music, but a choir of similar quality has yet to emerge. La Stagione Armonica is about 20 strong, though its singers produce a lusty sound that makes it seem much larger. Its director, Sergio Balestracci, is clearly unconcerned about historically informed performance and, while this in itself need not be a failing, the stylistic qualities of these readings create a number of problems: the sopranos sing with a marked vibrato that often interferes with intonation, while the altos tend to over-project, creating a fruity, operatic sound. The ensemble is frequently slack, rhythms are lanquid and individual lines turbid and indistinct. Nor does the vast organ, used as a continuo instrument, help clarify the texture. On a more positive note, the singers certainly imbue their performance with rousing gusto, and the chant choir – Schola Gregoriana – has a convincing religious fervour. It is indeed refreshing to hear an ensemble that doesn’t even pay lip service to fashionable performance practice, but the standard is very much that of an amateur choir. Kate Bolton