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COMPOSERS: Claudio Monteverdi
ALBUM TITLE: Monteverdi
WORKS: Vespers 1610
PERFORMER: Dunedin Consort / John Butt


This compelling and insightful album is an outstanding contribution to Monteverdi’s 450th anniversary. John Butt makes no attempt to place the ‘work’ in the framework of a single church service, as the evidence now seems clear that the individual items of the published collection were composed over a number of years for varied liturgical contexts. He follows convention in transposing down the Laudate Jerusalem and seven-voiced Magnificat settings (the six-voiced Magnificat in the collection is not recorded), and uses high Baroque pitch which brightens the sound. His flexible approach to the vexed question of the proportional speeds between duple and triple sections produces some surprisingly languid effects (in the Audi coelom), but a dance-like vitality elsewhere (as in the ‘Sonata sopra Sancta Maria’). 

Using just ten singers creates a great transparency of texture – though some listeners may miss the grand, bombastic sounds found in traditional performances (there is only one voice per part in Nisi Dominus). Particularly effective is the coloristic sonority of the organ which, by employing the Hauptwerk system, reproduces the sound of an early Venetian instrument. The accompanying booklet makes no mention of the vocal soloists, though performances of both Nigra sum and the duet Pulchra es, with their consummate theatrical sensuality and use of ornamentation, almost suggest Monteverdi’s Poppea of 30 years later.

Anthony Pryer


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