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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger

Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)
Vespro della beata vergine (1610)
Ann Monoyios
Marinella Pennicchi
Michael Chance
Mark Tucker
Nigel Robson
Sandro Naglia
Bryn Terfel
Alastair Miles
His Majesties Sagbutts and Cornetts
The Monteverdi Choir
The London Oratory Junior Choir
The English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner
Rec: 1989, the Basilica di San Marco, Venezia.
Sound format: PCM stereo - DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitle languages: GB, D, F, SP, CH
Picture format: 4:3
Picture standard: NTSC
Region code: 0
ARCHIV 073 035-9 [110 min.]


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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 choir.

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 the work.

This is a fine performance and excellent recording; an overall wonderful musical experience.

Kirk McElhearn

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