WORKS: Vespro della beata vergine; Sonatas
PERFORMER: Sophie Marin-Degor, Maryseult Wieczorek (soprano), Artur Stefanowicz, Fabián Schofrin (alto), Paul Agnew, Joseph Cornwell, François Piglino (tenor), Thierry Félix, Clive Bayley (bass)Les Sacqueboutiers de Toulouse, Les Arts Florissants/ William Christie
CATALOGUE NO: 3984-23139-2
Mystery continues to shape how we listen to Monteverdi’s Vespers. As with Bach’s B minor Mass, the original appears to be a compilation of pieces, possibly composed at different times, certainly written in different styles, and with no clear indication of how – or even if – they were to be performed together. Of the various ‘solutions’ proposed, Andrew Parrott’s 1984 recording has probably won most critical acclaim. Parrott presented the Vespers in a strictly authentic liturgical context, which entailed reordering the pieces and adding extra material, including two instrumental sonatas by Cima, a Salve regina by Monteverdi and a lot of plainchant. His second major revision was to perform most of the work one-to-a-part, so replacing the music’s implicit grandeur with a chamber-music intimacy that some found intensely spiritual and others thought unduly austere.
Parrott’s ideas have been widely influential, though they were not universally accepted – Gardiner in 1989 and Jacobs in 1995 largely ignored them. William Christie’s new recording mostly belongs in the latter camp too. He rejects one-to-a-part minimalism and makes no attempt to reconstruct a ‘real’ liturgical setting for the Vespers (though, curiously, he follows Parrott in including the Cima sonatas). Purists may be upset, but the crucial point is that this Vespers performance is magnificently sung and played – solo voices are beautifully expressive (with Paul Agnew outstanding), choruses have a scintillating clarity, the closing ‘Magnificat’ is simply enthralling. By refocusing on the Vespers as music, Christie reminds us that contextual debate is secondary to the power and brilliance of Monteverdi’s scores. Graham Lock