Monteverdi: Selva morale e spirituale, Vol. 1

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COMPOSERS: Monteverdi
LABELS: Coro
WORKS: Selva morale e spirituale, Vol. 1: Gloria a 7; Laudate pueri (Primo); Beatus vir (Primo); Dixit Dominus (Secondo) a 8 etc
PERFORMER: Elin Manahan Thomas, Grace Davidson (soprano), Mark Dobell, Julian Stocker (countertenor), Joseph Cornwell, Ben Davies (tenor), Rob Macdonald, Stuart Young (bass); The Sixteen/ Harry Christophers
CATALOGUE NO: COR 16087

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Monteverdi’s Selva morale, published in 1640 towards the end of his life, is a retrospective collection of 37 (mostly) sacred items which demand from performers a great many skills and styles – choral, soloistic, chamber-like, quasi-theatrical and madrigalesque.

This first volume selects ten well-contrasted pieces which immediately give an enthralling sense of the variety of the music in the collection as a whole, and these are some of the most spirited and individual performances of this repertory available. 

In the magisterial Gloria a 7, the chord changes at ‘Et in terra pax’ are mesmerising, and the switches between contrasting rhythms are presented with flair and daring. The choir is reverent and exultant by turn (Dixit Dominus II provides a marvellous climax to the disc), and the standard of solo singing is very good.

The ad hoc instrumentalists provide sensitive, stylish support throughout: ‘Chi vol’ ends with the magical tinkle of plucked strings, and in Laudate pueri I an ethereal little organ leads us across from the main part of the work to its closing ‘Gloria Patri’ section.

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There are some minor blemishes of tuning in that last work, and the usually warm acoustic is occasionally slightly hard-edged (as in Beatus vir I). It is a little early to say whether this projected set by The Sixteen will match the superb complete recording of the Selva morale by Konrad Junghänel on Harmonia Mundi (2001), but hopes should remain high. Anthony Pryer