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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger

Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)
Vespro della Beata Vergine (published 1610)
Roberta Invernizzi, Monica Piccinini, Anna Simboli (sopranos); Sara Mingardo (contralto), Francesco Ghelardini (alto); Vincenzo di Donato, Luca Dordolo, Gianluca Ferranini (tenors); Pietro Spagnoli, Furio Zanasi (baritones); Antonio Abete, Daniele Carnovich (basses)
Concerto Italiano/Rinaldo Alessandrini
Recorded in the Farnese Palace, Rome in April 2004
NAÏVE OP.111 OP30403 [50’11 + 45’23]



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Rinaldo Alessandrini has made his international reputation largely through performances of Monteverdi, particularly the motets, so this new recording of the composer’s greatest choral work was bound to be eagerly awaited. That critical opinion has been somewhat divided should not be a great surprise. Alessandrini invites this sort of response; his highly provocative approach to the many historical and performing aspects being bound to divide listeners.

In his typically forthright sleeve-note, he tells us straightaway that he is firmly in favour of the choir singing one to a part. This is nothing new, of course, with Philip Pickett and Andrew Parrott both adopting this approach. Indeed, Parrott’s excellent super-budget version on Virgin Veritas probably provides the main comparison for this new recording. So, if you regard the work as a grand Renaissance choral blockbuster, best stick to Gardiner (DG, his later version) or Jordi Savall (also Naïve) who both use much bigger, though extremely disciplined, choral forces to great theatrical effect.

More controversially, Alessandrini does away with the plainsong antiphons that most other versions adopt, and for whose inclusion there is historical evidence. He also uses his small hand-picked choir of twelve to vary some of the tempos, rather as Paul McCreesh does in his similarly scaled down Bach Matthew Passion. This works well in bringing out the dance-like origins and character of, say, the ‘Ave Maris stella’, but some may feel that other sections, including parts of the ‘Magnificat’ or ‘Audi caelum’ lack a certain weight or gravitas. At least Alessandrini sticks to the now-standard published order for the work, so if you have access to the excellent Oxford Edition, edited by Jeffrey Kutzman (OUP, 1999) you can follow Alessandrini’s attempts at ‘authentic’ ornamentation and his unique approach to instrumentation.

Indeed, the way the instruments, including punchy sackbuts and reedy organ continuo, cut through the texture is one of the most exciting things about these discs. The ‘Sonata’ floats gloriously out in Gabrieli-style splendour, the resonant acoustic helping rather than hindering here. Elsewhere, though mentioning individual voices in so intimate a setup is invidious, one marvels at Monica Piccinini and Roberta Invernizzi’s sensuous, almost operatically ethereal ‘Pulchra es’, and the earth-shaking basses in the transposed ‘Lauda Jerusalem’.

All in all, there is much here to be thrilled and moved by. Many music lovers I know simply will not entertain the one-to-a-part philosophy, but when it is done as persuasively as here, where the sheer vocal virtuosity allows the many taxing rhythms and quirky ornamentations to be heard with crystal clarity, then it’s hard not to be won over. I would certainly not make it my only Vespers, in the same way I would not make a small-scale historically aware Beethoven 5 my only version. I would not be without the theatrical grandeur of Gardiner or Savall (whose mid-price version interestingly includes one Rinaldo Alessandrini playing continuo), but there are so many details teased out by Alessandrini that make this new version very compelling indeed.

Tony Haywood



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