Monteverdi's masterpiece, his Vespers of the
Blessed Virgin, is one of the finest works of sacred music, and
above all the most moving work from 17th century Venice. This
DVD, filmed in the Basilica di San Marco, has the advantage of
a range of top soloists and a fine orchestra and choir. John Eliot
Gardiner, explains in the "bonus" documentary, introducing the
piece, that this music is what convinced him to become not an
historian but a musician.
These Vespers feature a strange combination of
music. In the first part, Monteverdi mixes both sacred and secular
music, alternating madrigal-like songs with psalms. The songs
are small-scale works, with one or several singers accompanied
by plucked instruments, such as lute and chitarrone. These provide
a unique counterpoint to the larger works for soloists and/or
The sound of this disc is breathtaking, and reproduces
the amazing acoustics of the Basilica di San Marco. When the Monteverdi
Choir launches into the first number of this work the sound pours
out of the speakers, in an admirable balance between the choir
and instruments. While the choir itself is slightly lacking in
texture - undoubtedly due to the natural reverberation of the
Basilica - the overall sound is impressive.
Gardiner selected a strong group of soloists
for this work, and the entire performance is brimming over with
energy, both from the singers and the instrumentalists. The wide
range of musical colours - from the large choir, the small children's
choir, the sagbutts and cornetts to the orchestra - makes this
an immensely delightful experience.
The camera work is quite original, and for a
change there is actually something to watch. Rather than long
close-ups of soloists and panning shots of tapestries, the director
uses the beautiful Basilica as a set, and shows its many attractive
areas while using tasteful cuts among the musicians. The intermediate
"songs" are filmed in different areas, giving the entire work
an atmosphere of theatre.
Included as a bonus is a 20-minute introduction
to the Vespers and Monteverdi's life, where Gardiner, the pedagogue,
gives a very interesting and concise discussion of the context
of this work. This is certainly worth watching before listening
to and seeing the Vespers, unless you are already familiar with
This is a fine performance and excellent recording;
an overall wonderful musical experience.