WORKS: Vespro della Beata Vergine 1610
PERFORMER: Nicholas Mulroy, Thomas Hobbs (tenor); Choir of New College Oxford; Charivari Agréable/Edward Higginbottom
CATALOGUE NO: NCR 1382
This year is the 400th anniversary of the publication of Monteverdi’s Vespers, and New College Oxford has chosen the work to launch its own official recording label – Novum. This is also one of the few recordings to employ boys’ voices (which is possibly, but not certainly, in accordance with Monteverdi’s practice) and it claims to present the text in ‘strict accordance with the 1610 publication’.
In fact, only one of the two printed Magnificat settings is performed here, and – following the usual practice now – ‘Lauda Jerusalem’ is transposed downwards. The printed score contains no plainsongs, and they are not performed – so this is not a liturgical performance.
The recording gets off to a slightly bumpy start with some rather laboured triple time sections in the first two movements, and the boys struggle a little with what should be crisp, tuneful dotted rhythms in ‘Laudate pueri’ and ‘Pulchra es’.
Thereafter things improve. The tenor soloists, Nicholas Mulroy and Thomas Hobbs, are ravishing in ‘Duo Seraphim’, and the whole choir comes together brilliantly in ‘Lauda Jerusalem’ and the Magnificat.
The instrumentalists of Charivari Agréable are on fine form; they add wonderful shape to the phrases in ‘Esurientes’, and combine thrillingly with the plangent boys’ voices in the ‘Sonata sopra Sancta Maria’.
The recording is well balanced, though some spatial distinction between the two answering sections of the choir in ‘Nisi Dominus’ would have been a bonus, as would more convincing echo effects in ‘Audi coelum’. Even so, a distinctive and appealing performance, if somewhat uneven in effect. Anthony Pryer