Monteverdi: Vespers of 1610

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COMPOSERS: Monteverdi
LABELS: Coro
WORKS: Vespers of 1610
PERFORMER: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers
CATALOGUE NO: COR 16126

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Some years ago Harry Christophers released on Hyperion a liturgical reconstruction of the Second Vespers for the Feast of Santa Barbara, which incorporated elements from the 1610 collection. This new version was prepared in relation to a BBC Two documentary on the Vespers: hence the order of pieces which follows the original print (featured in the programme), with no liturgical additions. Also Lauda Jerusalem and the seven-voiced Magnificat get two performances apiece, at high and low pitch, presumably to illustrate debates about transposition in this work. Oddly, there is no recording of the six-voiced Magnificat from the collection, though it would have fitted onto the second disc.

Harry Christophers sees Monteverdi attempting here to ‘speak through singing’ (recitar cantando), and this, he tells us, allows the conductor ‘the most amazing licence’ – of accentuation, speed, and declamation. Hence the characterful accounts of Laudate pueri and Dixit Dominus, where pauses are ignored or inserted, and the relative speeds between their duple and triple sections are rarely the same. The choral and solo singing is good, though in the exquisite Duo Seraphim the rather stolid organ accompaniment drains the ethereal elements out of the performance.

This is a decent Vespers, but for a liturgical version with fine instrumental playing turn to Paul McCreesh (on Archiv); or for a zany, dancing version, Jeannette Sorrell (on Avie); and for intelligent grammatical declamation of the words, The Orchestra and Choir of the Age of Enlightenment with Robert Howarth (on Signum).

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Anthony Pryer