Monteverdi: Vespri solenni per la festa de San Marco

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Monteverdi
LABELS: NAIVE
ALBUM TITLE: Monteverdi: Vespri solenni per la festa de San Marco
WORKS: Vespri solenni per la festa di San Marco: motets, chants, psalm settings, antiphons, magnificat, plus instrumental works by Giovanni Gabrieli and Usper
PERFORMER: Concerto Italiano/Rinaldo Alessandrini

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This is not the famous Vespers by Monteverdi published in 1610 – the Concerto Italiano recorded that work in 2002. Rather it is a vespers service constructed by Alessandrini for the Feast of St Mark, with chants appropriate to a Venetian church and most of the polyphonic items selected from Monteverdi’s Selva Morale collection published in Venice in 1640. However, just to add to the confusion, it has been recorded in the church of Santa Barbara in Mantua (which is where the 1610 Vespers were probably first performed), but it does not employ the galleries there, which would have suited the split-choir effects because, we are told, recordings cannot capture the effect. (This is puzzling.)

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Alessandrini has years of experience in this field and his musicians are knowledgeable and professional performers. There is superbly stylish singing in Laudate pueri with delicate little cadential ornaments, and terrific duetting between the sopranos in Confitebor. The instruments are tuneful and tasteful (especially in Gabrieli’s Canzona Ottava). What is wrong here is Alessandrini’s direction. He seems to have two basic speeds (only occasionally abandoned) – stately duple time and nippy triple, but without any obvious rationale about the relative speeds between them. In the Magnificat and elsewhere the move from one section to another is frequently fudged, and the general effect is to make the music sectionalised and sluggish. The accompanying DVD gives us glimpses of the church, some of the instruments, Alessandrini’s conducting style, and him eating a meal from a 16th-century recipe book. Anthony Pryer